Master of fright: SMC professor helps artists overcome stage fright

Renaissance men are talented in various fields. For Michael Goode, one of his many specialties involves helping aspiring artists or established names to overcome that all-consuming demon known as stage fright.

Goode is an author, musician, actor, voice-over specialist, and is currently a trumpet teacher at Santa Monica College's Performing Arts Campus.

Growing up, Goode realized early on that his interests were many and so when he attended the University of Chicago he decided to simply focus on one interest at a time, yet staying passionately dedicated to each one.

"I learned to just focus on one thing at a time, on an average day they all flow through," said Goode.

One area of expertise Goode is particularly focusing on these days is helping performers, both students and industry figures, to overcome the kind of deep, repressed fears that can get in the way of their performance on stage.

Stage fright is not just for rookies, according to Goode, it can hit anyone no matter how famous.

"What I do here is I have SMC students come and I help them if they have something big coming up, and in other places I help others as well. If they have an audition coming up or if they're playing has suddenly just started falling apart," he explained.

Everybody's different according to Goode. He came up with an example of how two trumpet players can have two different reasons psychologically for not being able to hit a desired high note on stage before a vast audience.

Goode knows about it because he himself suffered from terrible stage fright 20 years ago.

"It was so bad that my knees knocked together and my mouth would get dry and I couldn't think clearly, it was terrible," he recollected.

Diving into neurological research at the University of Chicago, Goode came to the conclusion that "habits are not permanent." He described the process as creating a new habit in place of the old one. For example, if someone can't throw a ball the right way, they can change how they are throwing the ball so their pitching might get better.

"Stage fright is completely misunderstood," explained Goode. "What most people consider stage fright is that feeling of butterflies, that's not stage fright. What that is is the body gearing up to do a great job."

Actual stage fright according to Goode is when a performance might start well but after 30 or 40 seconds it just starts to fall apart.

"Everything starts from something I call the trigger moment," said Goode. "And it's usually some seminal event that happened to them, something very traumatic that just imprinted them. It usually happened when they were little."

A sudden, innocent scare from childhood, a tragedy in the family, early bullying, all these are just a few experiences that can imbed deep, rooted fears that will then manifest themselves when a performer has to deliver with eyes watching.

The process Goode uses to help a subject overcome a fear or find it's source takes place during a series of sessions. He might ask the individual to think back to the first moment in their life when a particular fear manifested itself, or the first conscious memory of an encounter that left the memory marked.

Once that fear or moment is identified the subject can then proceed to accept that it happened and that it's OK to be afraid. Goode might even recommend that a letter be written to that particular fear acknowledging what happened and expressing all the inner unrest over this lingering terror. It's a form of release through catharsis.

Goode has written a book on the subject of cracking on stage titled "Stage Fright in Music Performance and Its Relationship to the Unconscious." During research for the book, Goode studied over 400 people to develop a series of sketches displaying various levels of stage fright among musicians.

"There was one level for people who had no stage fright at all, which is extremely rare," he noted.

Goode believes that a lack of stage fright can come from what he calls "age-appropriate upbringing," meaning that constant encouragement and positive support from early on can help build a character less likely to feel insecure when performing.

Goode claims that famous performers who have died recently due to drug overdoses such as Amy Winehouse and Philip Seymour Hoffman, suffered from deep traumas or buried fears that were overshadowed by the work they produced.

He alleges that at some point, a very close friend of Amy Winehouse and a recording executive both wanted Winehouse to work with Goode, but she declined.

Goode acknowledged that we currently live in a very image-obsessed society which moves at a fast pace thanks to social media and iPhones.

"It creates a lot of pressure," he said. "The self-confidence can be affected because you have a lot of people pushing that you have a certain image and their reasons are not exactly noble. Manufacturing companies sell you a certain image because they want to sell you certain pants, shirts and jeans."

Goode recommends that young people start thinking of themselves as unique individuals.

"You're ok the way you are right now. It's really not dependent on how many friends you have on Facebook, it just depends on you," said Goode. "Everybody is ok. But there are so many distractions to tell us that we're not, and they're false."

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