Most tough guys in a similar situation would be whimpering in a corner somewhere.
I’m a sound engineer by trade, the guy you’ll see at the mixing board in the back of the room during a music concert or perhaps for a business convention or graduation ceremony. And while I’ll occasionally run sound for the President, a charismatic religious leader, or even Oprah, most of the time these gigs are pretty unremarkable. Basically, when someone stands up in front of a microphone, I turn them on. When they step away, I turn them off. What could be simpler?
Of course, there’s a lot of pressure to do this perfectly, especially when there’s a broadcast to many millions of people. But it’s not exactly rocket science and certainly I’m not holding a person’s life in my hands like a surgeon. However, music is a very personal and powerful force so it must be done correctly and with great artistic flair. In short, every performance is ultimately important to the artist, presenter, or even your child in their third-grade play.
I admit to being pretty fearless about doing these shows, some would say overconfident. But on a few occasions I’ve met an artist or performer that taught me a thing or two about fear management.
I think of her as Veronique, even though I don’t know her real name. Veronique is the name of the lead character in a novel I’m writing, one of the things I do to pass the time during downtime on gigs. In my novel, Veronique has to face her ultimate fear and does so with great grace. But the real “Veronique” I was working with that day was a dancer at a Faith of Our Fathers convention, a multi-day extravaganza ultimately playing to an audience of 10,000 people. I was in charge of the sound for the entire show, so not only did I have to provide music for the dancers, but also audio for the PowerPoint presenters, sends to the broadcast truck, and a lot of other things. In short, I was very busy with everyone demanding my attention and I was quickly running out of patience.
Now, right from the beginning I knew this flesh and blood Veronique was going to be a lot of trouble. She appeared to be a real Prima Donna (and not the good type) with the aloof stare of a lead ballerina. The stage manager kept bugging me about removing extra gear on stage. Could I move the monitor speakers off-stage? The cables needed to be re-run so as not to snag a foot. Everything had to be perfect for Veronique. So I moved speakers and reconnected wires and built platforms to clear the way for the lead dancer herself. And after an hour of extra setup time I finally asked her if everything was to her satisfaction. But she stared right past me and didn’t say a word. How rude! Now I was sure she was an arrogant, overrated performer who wasn’t even polite to the crew putting together her show.
But then she began to rehearse her dance and I was amazed at how good she really was. She moved with a fluidity that made her look like she was floating on air. Still that didn’t excuse her arrogance to the road crew.
Shortly thereafter the real bombshell came. After rehearsal she went to the edge of the stage and pulled something out of her bag. It was a folding white cane, one for blind people. And then I watched in stunned silence as she navigated the stairs with nothing but a cane. Then as she walked past me I was shocked again. In her one ear was a hearing aid. Of course it was in the ear away from me when I had previously asked her if everything was alright. She wasn’t being rude, she had neither seen nor heard me earlier. The stage manager confirmed that she was nearly totally deaf and blind, but could see white tape strips enough so as not to fall off the edge of the 4-foot high stage. And the reason for making me move everything earlier was that she would never be able to see a black speaker cabinet on a dark stage and certainly black wires were the ultimate trip hazard. She had memorized the stage and learned to dance without seeing or hearing. Of course, one misstep and she would step right off the stage and take a fall into the orchestra pit with certain injury. But that fear didn’t stop her from dancing fearlessly, when most of us would have just given up.
Later that night during the actual performance I had a new appreciation for how much guts this must take. I’ve been around a lot of extreme sports types who always brag about how fearless they are. However, I’ve never seen anyone exhibit so much grace in the face of fear as I did that night. It’s used with a lot of hype nowadays, but I had seen the ultimate definition of the phrase, “No Fear.”
The Veronique Effect – Copyright 2000 Mike Sokol – All rights reserved