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Anoushka Warden at the Edinburgh Fringe: 'I have discovered the secret to performing with absolute confidence'

The author and performer of My Mum's A Tw*t reflects on gaining confidence and avoiding reviews at the Fringe

My Mum's A Tw*t
© Helen Murray

Humans, stop everything, I have discovered the secret to performing with absolute confidence.

I could sell it to Amazon and make sh*tloads of money but instead, honouring my WhatsOnStage blog, I will tell you all now.

Partial blindness.

After my fourth time of performing the show, I was still getting so distracted by the things the people in the audience would do. A lean in, a frown, a laugh, a nose pick or someone rustling through their makeup bag for at least ten minutes would all hurtle my inexperienced brain off to millions of other dimensions.

I explained this to a friend and he very wisely suggested I perform without my contact lenses in.

GENIUS!

I need glasses or contacts for seeing things further away. There's no point putting the official wording for this as even those of us with opticians prescriptions still don't really know the difference of what long or short-sighted means.

In real terms not having my contacts in for shows means I can see all the shapes but none of the defining features (ie I can't read train station displays).

It was so freeing (whilst also making the walk to the venue slightly perilous).

I didn't need to second guess how things were going, I'd just plough happily through. Which might not sound like the finer more delicate nuances that an experienced amazing actor would bring. But I'm not that!*

So now with my confidence at its top level and the show full everyday, I was officially having a very good fringe. And audiences were telling me they were too.

Then I read a review. Why did I do that, what a knob.

When the play was on at the Royal Court I read all the reviews, the good, the crap and the badly written. I kind of had to what with my job being Head of PR, and especially as the night after the press night for my show, I had to see all the critics back in my official work role as it was the press night of our downstairs show. (mega awks!)

However, as a writer, I honestly didn't get defensive or upset reading them. When people gave it two stars I thought, fine, it wasn't to your taste and I genuinely felt that. And when people gave it four stars I reminded myself that I shouldn't get big-headed about that. Working at the Court had given me a very robust feeling about all this. Someone could give a show five stars and love it when for me I hadn't got on so well with it Likewise, I could love and think something was the best thing ever and then a reviewer would label it two stars. In a nice way, it is all bollocks. Life and taste are subjective. Why on earth would we expect everyone to like and appreciate the things we do. Add on to that the very small pool of people who actually review, it was just bonkers getting affected by that. This is what I always say to writers at work, and it's not just some PR spiel as I had experienced it myself.

So I read the review. And oh geez it is ANOTHER thing when you as performer get criticised. I think because you then have to go on and be in the thing and that is quite a vulnerable position.

I gave myself a BIG talking to, the talk above. And even though on an intellectual level I believed my talk, halfway through that day's performance the reviewer's insults had crept into my brain and it was hard to tell them to piss off as I was trying to remember my way through the very fast coke scene.

Afterwards I felt a bit sh*t. So I came up with a plan to get me back on form. This is a bit naughty but being honest I asked a number of people up here what the worse shows they had seen were and then the next day I booked in to one, to make myself feel better.** That's awful isn't it?! But it WORKED!!! I felt great after and performed one of the best shows ever later that day with an audience who were on fire.

Later this week I met with an actor friend who said he kept getting tagged by reviewers in bad reviews on Twitter. I asked him why he read them (now that I had learnt not to) and he said he didn't but seeing the two stars in the tweet was enough to make him feel sh*t. I could understand this now.

As a PR I genuinely feel that outlets and journalists have a professional responsibility to not tag creatives or performers in negative reviews, and most of the good places don't. As a (new) performer I think it's really actually pretty mean.

And for any other performer who is being forced to see those two stars in regards to their work this is what I said to my pal and what I hope will help you. From me the PR who has read nearly every review ever over the last five years:

Don't worry about star ratings, they aren't accurate and often a two can read like a three or even a four and I think honestly three stars for a new piece of work is really good, it means you've created something strong. And it is very important to know that sometimes outlets need things to be either two or four stars as apparently no-one ever reads three's so it's all just a game anyway.

F**k the stars and remember it takes massive guts to get up everyday and talk to a bunch of strangers who are picking their noses.

*nb if your eyesight is perfect and you wish to try this method you can arrange for those contact lenses that were popular in the 90's to be made where they change the colour of your eye and then ask them to put a smudgy film over the pupil bit = the same effect as my sh*t vision.

And whilst you get used to putting contact lenses in (it took me a few months) here are my "Top Five Badass Pre-Show Rap Songs" for making confidence:
2Pac - "Ambitionz az a Ridah"
Too $hort - "Never Talk Down on a Playa"
The Notorious B.I.G - "Friend of Mine"
TI- "Whatever You Like"
Cypress Hill - "(Rap) Superstar"

** I'd have loved it if the show I had been sent to actually ending up being exactly to my tastes, and therefore proving my earlier point, but in this case, it wasn't.