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Picturing them naked

July 8, 2021
By Felicity T.C. Hamer

Band on stage at Rialto, purple dress, dancers Filly and the Flops at The Rialto, Jivefest 2019. Photo by Courtney O’Hearn.

There’s really no consoling my son when he’s worked up about an upcoming school presentation. At eight years old, he already experiences extreme anxiety at the prospect of having to speak before his class. And I get it – because I feel the same way.

He doesn’t believe me – few do – but I have struggled with an intense fear of public speaking for as long as I can remember. 

Why Bother

Some people are just good at this. They strut to the front of a room – onto a stage – with confidence and speak off-the-cuff. Not I.

I don’t know if it terrifies me because I want to so bad or if I want to so bad because it terrifies me. Whatever the reason, I have been putting myself in uncomfortable situations for years now and if it’s taught me anything, it is that things will go wrong and that’s ok.

Leading up to a public speaking or singing commitment, I often ask myself why I put myself through this – the nerves, my stomach, sleep loss – but I'm nearly always reminded why once I get going (if not after).

Because I love it. I’m so grateful for opportunities to share my ideas, I love to sing on stage so much – and each public engagement of this sort – spoken or sung – helps build confidence I can apply towards the next. Even when things don’t go as planned.

Band playing to zombies in the rain, red coat “Zombies! Never mind your makeup in the rain – pay attention to me!” Filly and the Flops at Place des Spectacles, Marche des Zombies de Montreal/Zombie Walk, 2016. Photo by John Zimmerman.

“There are no mistakes, only happy accidents”

We can all learn a lot from Bob Ross. Planning and rehearsing are important, but we also need to roll with the punches. The unexpected will happen.

For example, you might trip on a cord crossing over to your mic in front of a sold-out crowd at Metropolis and nearly faceplant. You better laugh it off and nail the song. It's all you can do.

Your bandmate might lead a song in the key of the song slated next on the setlist (you know who you are). Just start singing that song in the new key and wait to see how he pulls off his solo. It’ll be ok.

Or maybe you’re hit with a 24hr flu on your way to the gig but it's your friend's album launch and he's counting on you to sing backup. You’ll just have to hang in the bathroom between sets and make sure there’s a garbage can near your side of the stage. No brainer.

Perhaps you’re so unbelievably pregnant you might not make the gig. When you do, you fear your body might do something unexpectedly embarrassing on stage. The crowd may gasp at your girth as you walk over to the mic – try to focus on the music and enjoy the moment. Do your best to avoid mistakes and ‘happy’ accidents. It’s all you can do.

The stage is high, your skirt is short, it’s windy, you forgot the words – I could go on. These moments of panic don’t go away but I’ve learned to channel the ensuing adrenaline rush into quick problem solving. Most of all, I try to remind myself that worse has happened and I survived.

Series of three: at podium, empty venue, pregnant at mic Place des Arts: Valedictorian, Concordia’s Graduation Ceremony June 20, 2012; Le Hot Club de ma Rue opens for Zaz, Montréal en Lumière 2016; Pregnant at la Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Credits: left: Screenshot courtesy Concordia U, center: F. Hamer, right: photo by Mathieu Pothier.

Back Into my Shell

The pandemic shut down live performance in a big way. I can feel myself crawling back into my shell (or physically into my closet as some of my recording work has moved into it).

With nearly all my social interactions moved online, I feel myself getting weirder around others and I fear that my return to the stage will be extremely emotional. Cathartic but also somewhat terrifying.

It hasn’t just taken me years to build up the courage to speak or sing on stage – I’m constantly working at this. And as with anything, I need to keep exercising those muscles or they get rusty again. These performances have offered balance to the sometimes-lonely experience of researching and writing. But most of all, I love it.

In February of 2020, my band The Slowinks recorded a new album, I played a final show with my group Filly and the Flops – then everything shutdown. A recent backyard rehearsal – the first in a year – felt so emotional, I can’t even imagine what it will be like to return to the stage. With a first booking on the horizon this July 21, the late-night butterflies have already begun.

This may feel a bit like starting over – but I’ll be starting over with all these wipe-outs in my back pocket.

Two shots of band performing – before a church and Heineken stage FIJM First show after four month ‘mat leave’ – Le Hot Club de ma Rue at Parvis de l’Église Sainte-Rose-de-Lima, July 23, 2016 and Filly and the Flops at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2015. Photos by Chris Reid (holding baby) and Daniel J. Rowe.

Picture Them Naked

The truth is, people don’t always note that you’re nervous, that you’re shaking or that you screwed something up – because…wait for it: they’re not always paying all that much attention to you. A hard truth for attention-seeking performers, there’s also something liberating in this. Those ‘happy accidents’ and recoveries are little gifts for those paying attention or in the know – and they’re nearly always rooting for you. Personally, I love noting glitches – they make performances feel less polished, more ‘live,’ the performers somehow more relatable.

Not only is the audience not as attentive or perceptive as you may hope or fear – they may well be worrying that their turn is next. I myself am guilty of this both in public speaking and vocal performance engagements and for this reason tend to request the earliest slot (so I can then enjoy the others calmly). Conversely, those who watch you may be enjoying a vicarious moment – longing for your spotlight and confidence (as I did for years and still often do).

When my son worries about his next presentation, I won’t suggest he picture them naked. Not just because he’s eight – but also as I believe it’s more about recognizing that others are not scrutinizing you the way you do yourself. They, we, look for beauty in others and should afford ourselves the same kindness.

So, perhaps what is key then, is to do what Mom (or a good friend) would do – remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished. Remind yourself of the time you nearly faceplanted but then straightened up and nailed it – when you were super pregnant and did not pee yourself. When you caught your breath and delivered the valedictory speech.

My son doesn’t believe I have any advice to offer on this topic but I’ll keep trying. I’ll remind him of his own, accumulating victories – all the times he overcame his worry and made it through. When he did sing in the school Christmas show. When he did tell his classmates about Komodo dragons and venomous snakes. Or the time he was a ring bearer and his pants fell to his ankles – but he made it down the aisle.  

I’ll keep reminding him how wonderful he is. I’ll keep telling him I understand his worry – but he won’t believe me. “What does mommy know about this stuff anyhow?”

See you at the show.

Two shots of child ignoring band – eating burger, making faces My eldest enjoying my performances. The Slowinks at Beau’s Brewery 2019 and Le Hot Club de ma Rue at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, 2015. Photos by Marie-Hélène Boisvert and Chris Reid.

About the author

Photo of Felicity T.C. Hamer

Felicity Tsering Chödron Hamer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Studies. She has a background in photography (Dawson Institute of Photography DEC) and holds both a BFA (2012) and MA (2015) in Art History from Concordia University. She is a Montreal-born, recording and performing vocalist, songwriter and mother of two.

In her research, Felicity explores the relationship between photography-based media and remembrance. Her doctoral research has been supported by scholarships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQSC) and Concordia University. In 2020 she was awarded both Concordia’s Stand-Out Graduate Research Award and FRQSC’s Relève étoile Paul-Gerin-Lajoie Award for her book "Parental Grief and Photographic Remembrance: A Historical Account of Undying Love." Bingley: UK, Emerald Publishing. (February 2020).

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