The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > January 2011 > All the World’s A Stage
All the World’s A Stage

William Shakespeare, in his comedy “As You Like It,” once wrote: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely players.” Well, imagine, starting Act 1 with panic attacks, anxiety, nausea and cold sweats. Stage fright is a very common fear, whether one is performing in a school play, delivering a business report or singing karaoke. Everyday life involves interactions with people, which can be very similar to theater or musical performances.

Pearl White as a dramatic heroine. 1930. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-94844 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: SWANN - no. 263 (A size) [P&P] Interior of the Roxy Theater, with view of orchestra pit and stage, in New York City. 1927. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-98707 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: U.S. GEOG FILE - New York--New York City--Theaters--Roxy <item> [P&P] [P&P]

People who suffer from stage fright are extremely anxious or nervous to perform for an audience or in front of a camera. Some people who suffer from stage fright may even have a fear of performing even in front of small audiences like friends, family or coworkers.

Millions of people all over the world, and even well-known performers and musicians, suffer from stage fright. Barbra Streisand forgot the words of many of her songs during a 1967 performance. For 27 years, she didn’t sing a single song in public until her 1994 comeback tour. Sir Laurence Olivier suffered from social phobia at the peak of his career. As he admitted in his autobiography, he suffered for five long years. The renowned classical pianist Glenn Gould retired from playing in front of a live audience at age 32 because of his discomfort with public recitals, retreating into the world of studio recording and radio performance. "I detest audiences. I think they are a force of evil," he once said.

In the webcast presentation “I’m Frozen and I Can’t Play a Thing: Stage Fright and the Brain,” Norman Middleton of the Library’s Music Division recalls famous artists who suffered from stage fright and discusses recent research into solving the condition.

The event was part of the Music and the Brain Series, which offered lectures, conversations and symposia about the explosion of new research at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and music. Podcasts of the presentations are available, including dowloadable versions on iTunes.