Speech Anxiety: Lawrence Olivier

Speech Aniety: Lawrence Olivier

Imagine Sir Lawrence Olivier nervous before his performance
Speech Anxiety experienced by Sir Lawrence Olivier.

There are many other approaches to the feeling of unease we experience when required to perform in public. For instance, Marshall McLuhan, the philosopher of communications, had a distinct "take" on this condition. It is well known that Sir Laurence Olivier, despite his standing as a great stage and screen actor, experienced profound stage fright throughout his entire performing career. He writes about the forms his panic took in his theatrical memoirs, and he puzzled as to why he continued to feel this way despite his vast experience appearing before audiences around the world. In later years he came to regard the excess sweat his body produced, the jittery nervousness, etc., as simply symptoms that his body was warning him that he would shortly have to appear before audiences and perform in public. He was able to ignore these sensations and feelings while on stage, but not before or after.

He was drenched in sweat.
Why did Sir Lawrence Olivier experience Speech Anxiety?

McLuhan's view of the matter is that of a social psychologist. Sir Laurence felt little or no anxiety prior to the performance. Anxiety levels spiked when he entered the dressing room and removed his regular clothes and stood there semi-dressed before donning his costume (the robe of King Lear perhaps). During this period of semi-dress, he had no role to play. He was no longer the man known as Sir Lawrence; he was not yet the character known as King Lear. Having no role to play, he had no way to deal with his fears and apprehensions. Once on stage, there was no problem. Techniques honed over years of training and decades of performing simply took over. After all, he was a consummate actor. The situation was reversed when he stepped off stage and entered the dressing room where he removed the robe of King Lear. Once again he was nervous and he found he was drenched in sweat. He was no longer the actor, but not yet Sir Laurence. He would never receive visitors in his dressing room before or after a performance. Once he had showered and changed into his regular clothes, he was himself again. It was as if he had been living a nightmare.

The above is an excerpt from an article about Speech Anxiety by John Robert Colombo.

Speech Anxiety
Fear of Public Speaking
Stage Fright

George Torok
Executive Speech Coach
Motivational Speaker
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