A Chat with Brian Lucas about Performance Anxiety

Brian Lucas & Brisbane Powerhouse Presents

Performance Anxiety

Created and Performed by Brian Lucas

Brisbane Powerhouse

24 October – 3 November 2012


If we’ve never had it so good, why do we feel so bad?

In this special return season, nationally acclaimed performer/choreographer Brian Lucas holds a mirror up to our age of anxiety, revealing reflections which dazzle and provoke in his newest solo physical theatre work Performance Anxiety. Dance, movement, physical imagery, voice and sound combine to create an intriguing and confronting performance in the Turbine Rehearsal Room from 24 October – 3 November 2012.

Lucas draws on personal experience of the particular anxieties which arise when we find ourselves in front of a live audience , and explores the universal parallels that exist between the experiences of the professional performer and the struggle to “perform well” in our day-to-day lives, be it in the bedroom, the boardroom or the supermarket checkout queue.

As these anxieties infiltrate the performance space, Lucas conjures up characters who usually only exist on the periphery of our consciousness. He allows them to take centre-stage – revealing their inner lives, giving voice to their unspoken fears, hopes, strengths and frailties, and providing an opportunity for them to grab centre stage and shine. Performance Anxiety is the bastard, hybrid child of The United States of Tara and karaoke night in a desolate gin-joint on the periphery of the planet.


Image by Fiona Cullen

We asked Brian to talk about his Performance Anxiety.

Brian, can you tell us about Performance Anxiety? How did it come about the first time and what led you to remount it?

The piece began life as the second of two full-length works I created as part of my Australia Council Fellowship (the first being “Underbelly”). I really wanted to explore the idea of performance anxiety as it affected me as a performer – as I have got older I was finding that I was getting more nervous about performing rather than less (!?!), and I wanted to try to understand and express this. I was also interested in how this anxiety existed away from formal “performance” situations, within the experiences of our day-to-day lives. In addition, I wanted the extra challenge of working in-the-round and within a cabaret setting, playing around with the usual perceptions of dance formats in theatre.

I wanted to give the piece a chance to live and grow again, and to show just how relevant the questions that it poses still are. For example – “If we’ve never had it so good, why do we feel so bad?”…..Why, in one of the most advanced, peaceful, wealthy and free nations on the planet do we still have such an over-riding sense of anxiety, fear and dissatisfaction?

Tell us about your experience at WTF. Why is it such an important event for Brisbane?

WTF was a fantastic experience, especially as it was the inaugural one. I loved being able to showcase my work within an international context, and to challenge what constitutes “theatre” through the use of dance as the main form within the work. It was also fantastic to represent local arts practice and arts workers within the event.

Can you describe performance anxiety in terms of what you’ve experienced in the past as a performer? Does it get better?

It seems to get harder or more stressful, at least in some ways. I think as you age you do get more confident in your own abilities, but you also have a heightened sense of exactly what is at risk. You are more aware of what can go wrong, and you also have a greater expectation placed on you because of past achievements.

So are there any tricks or insider secrets to dealing with performance anxiety? What works for you?

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. And remember that there are worse things that could happen. Plus, keep it in perspective. It ain’t world peace….

It’s a 90-minute show, combining dance, movement, physical imagery, voice and sound. How do you prepare for each performance and what do you do to stay “performance fit”?

I prepare by immersing myself in the world of the piece, letting myself get lost in the words, movements and characters of the work. In a broader sense, I try to stay as physically active as I can – I rehearse a lot, teach a lot, and ride a bike everywhere. It saves me money, keeps me performance fit and gives me much-needed meditation space.

The Australian has you pinned as “One of Australia’s most commanding actor-dancers.” What do you think it is that makes a performer “commanding”? Is it an innate ability or can less experienced artists work to develop this aspect of the craft?

I think staying true to your own voice and aesthetic, being open to experiences both within performance situations and in life in general, and being prepared to risk, learn and grow. Never stop!

I think that I’ve been helped by my size in terms of this sense of presence (tall often equals “commanding”!), but I think that it is also because I am prepared to be vulnerable and honest in the way I express myself through that body.

It seems everyone is using crowd funding to get their projects up on their feet, with varying degrees of success. You’re using the funds raised to pay the artists involved, rather than to settle accounts with suppliers of your props and costumes. Can you tell us about your experience using pozible.com and how much do you think your use of social media informs its use?

I’m a pozible virgin, so I’m diving into this one full on but innocent! I’ll have to wait and see how it goes…..My one comment here is that I’m aware that many of the people who contribute to pozible campaigns are artists themselves – I’d love to know how better to get these campaigns out to sectors of the community who can actually afford to donate!

Yes, you’re right; I’ve noticed it too. At least via pozible.com it’s mostly artists contributing to artists’ work. If readers have ideas about how to more widely promote crowd funding projects, please comment below.

Can you explain the role that MAPS for Artists plays in the re-staging of the show?

MAPS have been brilliant in helping to produce and administer the production. They have made it possible for me to focus on being first-and-foremost an artist.

And how has Brisbane Powerhouse helped get this show back on the road?

Brisbane Powerhouse have been really generous in the support that they have given. I think that they acknowledge the strength of the work and the strong connection that it has with the venue. And they also respect the long-term connection that I have with them.

Do you have any advice for artists seeking similar levels of support from established venues or companies?

Make good work.

Allow that work to be seen and experienced by people from a wide variety of networks, make connections, start and continue conversations, and get yourself “out there”.

But most importantly




How do you usually promote a show?

I’m happy to do anything that will get word out about a show. I talk, I write, I discuss, I contribute.

What do you want us to take away with us?

A unique experience, a sense of wonder and questioning, and a desire to better understand ourselves and each other.

What are your hopes for the future of the arts industry in Queensland and Australia? (I use the term “industry” loosely because some of us still believe we should be making money from the art we create and others are happy to keep creating, regardless of the commercial success of a creative product/process). What is most helpful for the future of the creative and performing arts in this state?

I think it all comes back to us (as artists) making good work, and with us being surrounded by institutions, organisations and mechanisms that support us in that task. I hope that this situation continues to improve in Queensland and Australia and that artists remember to keep this goal in mind, and not be too distracted by the financial and promotional aspects of the sector.

I want to be around for a long time to come, so I want a sector that enables and supports longevity.

And I don’t want it to be an industry. I want it to be a culture, full of intriguing and inspiring artists with rich arts practices, and full to the brim with creativity.

If you’d like to support Brian’s Performance Anxiety book tickets and/or contribute to the pozible.com campaign.

Performance Anxiety

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