Stage Fright

in Blog

Billy Watson at Utter's Got Talent Final

Check out the video of me telling the story of the time I got Big Time Stage Fright. If you want to go straight to the footage of the gig, it starts around the 6 minute mark.

I have lived in Antalya in Turkey since 2006 and every year around June it starts to get a bit hot for a Scotsman with skin as white as mine so I always end up going to the Edinburgh Festival in August every year for the weather if nothing else.

However, as I used to perform comedy and poetry in Scotland for a few years before I left I do miss it and when I am back I have a few friend who give me stage time at their various gigs and then I go back to Turkey and don’t perform again for 11 months.

This has been a bit frustrating for me and most of the time I wonder what the hell I am doing living in Turkey. That’s a long story which I will fill you in on at a later date.

It got so frustrating that in 2009 I decided to perform a one man show at a venue that turned out to be in the middle of nowhere (I really should have looked at the map) and so it was rather hard work playing to two men and a dog every day, and that was on a good day.

So I went back in 2010 just to perform open spots here and there thinking at least it wouldn’t be as stressful. It wasn’t, but there was one particular episode that happened that was much worse than anything the previous year had to throw at me.

I had performed in a few comedy open spots which went ok but I have also written a few poems in my time and although I wouldn’t call myself a performance poet, if an opportunity arises to perform one or two then I will usually take it.

This year for the first time ever at the festival there was an allocated venue specifically for spoken word and it was called The Banshee Labyrinth and run by Richard Tyrone Jones who runs Utter Spoken Word. I did have one pretty huge embarrassing moment though. I performed a poem one night at a slam competition run by Hammer and Tongue and even though I finished last, lol, after it Richard asked me to perform in the Utter Talent showcase the second last night of the festival.

I hate competitions but I need to get stage time and visibility I can get so I agreed. I was going to read the same poem as in the previous competition which came in comfortably under the 3 minute deadline at 2 mins 40 secs.

I asked Richard the allocated time and he said 3 mins first round and 2 for the final round if you qualify.However, a day before he announced on facebook that it was a 2 minute first round and so I tried to squeeze my poem into two minute by inventing a sort of rap. I felt under pressure also because all the other slammers wrote there stuff for slamming and I write mine like I was taught in nursery school.

So I went along to this competition after repeating this poem backwards and inside out with my new rap style presentation although I am more Shake and Vac than Tupac Shaker.

When Richard met me he asked if I could write an introduction for myself which I found unnecessary as he already knew my name but under pressure I came up with what I use for a tag line on my blog page – Ordinary Punter with his mind turned on – which is a line from a poem I wrote which I sometimes think is a bit egotistical of me particularly cause I live most of my life with it turned off and have great difficulty at turning it on as the rest of this story will illustrate.

The small room was jam packed and so I waited outside while the names were getting drawn and then the poet performed straight away when their name came out the hat. So when my ticket got called the women didn’t see my name at the top and read “Eh, er, ordinary punter with his mind turned on?”

Richard grabbed the paper and read my name as I handed someone my trusty video camera to get all this on video as I wasn’t under enough pressure already. Oh, I forgot to mention at the last slam all the crowd starting chanting ‘Billy Watson, he’s not from Turkey, he’s from round here’ based on my introductory conversation with the compere that night, in fact, it was Richard who started it.

So as I was getting the mic from him he started doing that chant again, I turned round to face the audience and he started the watch which threw me a bit cause I was trying to compose myself and I thought the time would start when I started talking or at least that is my excuse. I went totally blank. I was having a bad case of stage fright.

Stage Fright 1

For the life of me I could not remember the first goddam line of that fucking poem. Then I started making really bad jokes which made everyone feel really uncomfortable. The audience started to help me. ‘What’s it about?’ ‘Do you have it written down?’ ‘Do you know any shorter poems as your time is running out rapidly?’ I said “Ah-ha, I’ve got it” A big cheer came from the audience which threw me and I forgot it again.

Eventually after what seemed like 3 lifetimes but was actually only about 30 seconds of excruciating embarrassment I concentrated and blurted out the first line and I was off, trying like a bear to get through this poem as the audience watched with baited breath to see if I would fuck up again anytime soon. I got three quarters of the way through the poem before Richard called time on me. Bastard.

Stage Fright 2

The audience looked for my reaction. How was I gonna deal with it? Was I gonna throw a tantrum or take it like a man? I just shouted “Well, I totally fucked that up. A big round of applause for me for fucking that up.”

Stage Fright 4

To which they thankfully complied and I got out the room as quickly as possible grabbing my video camera on the way.

It was then up to the three judges Mark Grist, Kate Fox and Robin Cairns to dissect my performance. I am just glad it was yes or no rather than marks out of ten. Yes, I was the only competitor to get three no’s and thus keep up my usual standard of competition success.

They did say some nice things about me the bit of the poem they heard though and offered some encouragement but by that time I was slouching in the corridor asking myself ‘Why me? What did I do to make God so angry? Will I be able to ever show my face in poetry circles ever again?’

At the end of the gig I approached Richard to say how sorry I was but he said something which really made me feel a lot better.

He said “Don’t worry, wasn’t it a famous general who said ‘You can judge a man’s character, not by how far he falls but by how far he bounces back up.”

(It turns out it may have been Confucius).

I thought to myself, “You are a dude, man” and went straight to the bar to get pissed.

So, that was my performance poetry career up the spout for another year. Still, I survived the humiliation and apparently it toughens you up so I always have that to console myself with.

It has taken me nearly two years to be able to watch the footage again and I must admit it doesn’t look as bad as it appeared from the inside of my head at the time because I thought the whole world was crashing down around me.

Feel free to leave a comment and if you have any similarly embarrassing stories to tell or even better some footage of it then please share. At least it would make me feel better knowing I’m not the only one to have endured such pain.

Have any of you ever had a disastrous gig? If so feel free to share the details in the comments below. It would sure help me feel better.



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