When I Quit the Stage & Never Got Back

Ever forgotten your lines on stage in front of a large audience?

Have you been embarrassed not being able to recollect even after racking your brain unsuccessfully? When you wished it were a bad dream hoping you will wake up thanking your stars that it did not happen. But you lived the nightmare. And you can’t shake it off. It shook you. Badly.

I have been there, and I know how it feels.

Ashamed, bitter, crestfallen, despondent, embarrassed, etc. I can go on. There are 21 letters more in the English alphabet. And I felt an emotion associated with every letter when I exited the stage three and a half decades ago.

I had entered an inter-school debate competition. This was not my first. I had participated earlier in intra-school contests. But this one was different. 

The stage was much bigger. And I felt I needed something extra to match up. I requested one of my teachers to write it for me. Mr. Unger put his pen to paper; it felt magical when I read it. I thought I had a head start over other participants. 

Over the next two days, I memorised the lines, as they say, ‘by heart.’ Or so I thought. 

My practice lessons facing the mirror went well. When the day arrived, I tried not to be nervous. But when my turn came to approach the podium, I felt jittery. The large crowd assembled in the hall psyched me out. 

I opened the debate with a strong opening line. And then it all went away. I could not remember a line. After a few seconds, not even a word. I blanked out. 

I tried very hard to remember but to no effect. Dejected, I made a hurried exit. I didn’t dare to look up till I was out of sight.

Though this incident happened 35 years ago, I still cringe when I recollect the moment. I remember feeling sheepish for weeks. I never participated in a debate after that. This single episode accentuated manifold my stage fright, which was always there but at a subliminal level.

What went wrong? Why did I completely lose the plot? I can think of two reasons: 

  • The lines were not mine. 
  • I tried to learn them by rote. 

Neither is a good idea. You need to draft your lines in a manner you are comfortable delivering them. That way, they are likely to come naturally to you. You won’t have to bang your head later trying to reproduce them.

Some have demonstrated success with rote learning, measured in terms of verbatim reproduction. Not me. I have failed. And learned my lesson the hard way. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. 

Ever since, I have always written my lines. I never attempted to reproduce someone else’s words. It has worked very well for me. It comes naturally, and I am more comfortable in my voice. Over time, it has become part of my style. Now people identify me with it. 

‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’

Oscar Wilde

Why try to be someone else? You have a mind of your own. You can think, write, and speak your lines. You own them. The sense of ownership will never be the same if you follow someone else’s thoughts or words. 

Try it. It can work for you too. So that you won’t have to abandon the stage in frustration. 

Be yourself. Always.

Published by RG

A Thinker at all times and Storyteller at heart. I see, I think. I hear, I think. I read, I think. Sometimes I write. Let me know what you think

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