The first time I had to speak in public was in the 11th grade at East High. I’d won the senior high essay contest, and I was supposed to read it in front of an all-school assembly. I’d heard the expression “so nervous that my knees were knocking,” but I didn’t know it was real. I was so grateful that I was standing behind a lectern because my knees were shaking so badly.I’m also grateful that I got off light compared to some really famous people. Sarah Berhnardt, said to have been the finest actress of the 20th century, is said to have had such stage fright that she threw up before each performance.Helen Hayes, the First Lady of the American Stage, experienced nervousness that took the form of selective deafness. When on stage, she could not hear any audience sounds — no applause, no laughter, etc. She only heard her colleagues on stage with whom she must interact.It would be funny if not for the terror that caused it for the incredibly famous Sir Laurence Olivier. Readying himself for a performance, he was frequently found pacing backstage and muttering “you bastards!” at the audience. A paralyzing attack of stage fright late in his career forced him to give up the stage completely.Yep, I got off easily with just my shaky knees.
(see Sir Laurence Olivier below)