There’s a moment right before a performer goes on stage when the butterflies flutter uncontrollably. Maybe you’ve had that feeling yourself? It’s a funny, scary, exciting, stressful, nervous feeling but that’s a good thing. Why is that? Where does that butterfly feeling come from?
In situations when your attention is heightened, usually associated with “going on stage” “making a speech” “putting yourself out here” your brain sends signals to you to essentially “wake you up,” to help you get ready you’re about to go on stage. Your brain is protecting you.
When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH. This hormone stimulates the Adrenal Glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood. Palms sweaty. Heart racing. You know the feeling.
Your blood pressure increases and your digestive system shuts down to maximize efficient delivery of even more nutrients and oxygen to your vital organs. When your digestive system shuts down, this is what leads to the feeling of dry mouth or butterflies. Even your pupils dilate, which makes it hard to read anything up close but improves long range visibility, making you more aware of your audience’s facial expressions. Oh no!
That’s the feeling Adria McCulloch has right about now. Adria is the soprano vocalist for My Virtual Dream and she’s very much out front and center stage; and it’s show time today! UC Irvine 50the Anniversary “Festival of Discovery” public event, crowds expected to be close to 7,000. Her butterflies are fluttering big time. “For me, that happens all the time, right before any performance,” admits McCulloch. “At first I thought it was because I was afraid of how I might sound, but over the years I’ve learned to harness that nervous energy and put it to positive use on stage.” Asked if there’s a moment when that nervous energy kicks into high gear, McCulloch quickly answered “Oh yes! It kicks in right as I say ‘check 1,2,3’ just moments before we go live. My throat tickles; I know it’s there instantly. It’s a good feeling.”
Those butterfly feelings can happen even if you’re not actually “going on stage.” What if you are the person who composed the music that’s about to be performed? “Yes, I get that feeling, especially when I hear the very first note of a composition I’ve written,” explained Bruce Radmacher. As exhilarating as it is to perform live on-stage the butterfly feeling is the same when your creative work is put out there. Radmacher is seasoned performer, playing the cello in orchestras throughout Canada, but this time, tonight at UC Irvine, Radmcher butterflies will come from hearing his compositions performed by his fellow musicians without him. To heighten the anxiety for Bruce, his wife Adria will transform the notes her husband wrote on paper into the gorgeous sounds of her voice.
by Richard Tavener, executive producer, My Virtual Dream