"Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright"

Aug 21, 2015

Our guest is Sara Solovitch, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer whose articles have appeared in Esquire, Wired, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. She has also been a health columnist for the San Jose Mercury News -- and she seriously studied piano in her younger days. These formative at-the-keyboard experiences greatly influence her first book, which Solovitch discusses with us today. That book is "Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright." As was noted of it by Kirkus Reviews: "Interspersed with her own story, Solovitch provides plenty of context on performance anxiety in general: its roots (both in the individual and in the culture), its history of treatment, and its pervasiveness. To Carl Jung, 'stage fright is a primal fear, awakening archetypal memories of ourselves as herd animals thrust outside the safety of the pack. Our predators -- the lions, the sharks, the audience -- smell our vulnerability and hover nearby, waiting for that one mistake.' It is more common than commonly admitted among musicians and athletes, it often involves perfection that can never be achieved, and it frequently begins with the high expectations of dominating parents. The author suggests that the story of Moses, 'who expressed understandable anxiety when asked by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt,' represents the earliest narrative of stage fright, a term that was first used by Mark Twain in 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.' Solovitch shows the frequency of its manifestations, from the pulpit to the urinal ('shy bladder syndrome,' more common among men than women), from the baseball diamond to the bedroom. The author discusses her interviews with Steve Blass and Steve Sax, two baseball players who were inexplicably unable to throw straight in front of a crowd (the latter recovered, the former retired). But throughout the wide expanse of this examination is the thread of Solovitch's own experience, as she prepared to play piano in a public recital to commemorate her 60th birthday and gave herself a full year to make herself confident, consulting piano teachers, sports psychologists, and other musicians who have dealt with and overcome similar jitters. For those who similarly suffer, and they are legion, the book suggests, the memoir offers comfort and hope."