American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Summer 2021     ROADS LESS TRAVELED

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Thinking Fast for a Show: How I Conquered My Anxiety to Perform on Stage

by Precious Perez

From the Editor: In 2016, as a rising freshman at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Precious Perez produced her debut album, "Hummingbird." Her second album, "Agua de Valencia," followed in 2019. She graduated from Berklee in 2021 with a double major in music education and vocal performance. In 2020 the National Federation of the Blind awarded Precious Perez the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship for $12,000. This article appeared on the NFB blog on May 10, 2021.

Precious Perez plays her ukulele onstage at the 2018 NFB National Convention.

December 6, 2018, was the first time I played a gig that I organized myself. I'd spent weeks facilitating rehearsals with my incredible musician friends, continuously following up with the elusive owner of the venue I was trying to book, and promoting the show that was to take place on that wintry Thursday night the week before finals. A little over a year prior, I'd put together a band on short notice and played my first gig in Valencia, Spain. It was on that stage abroad that I realized that I could be a blind frontwoman and band leader.

I've always been sensitive, and I have struggled with anxiety, even before I was diagnosed and knew what to call it. Anxiety comes with the territory of performing, but it's a whole different animal when you live with it offstage as well.

I woke up on December 6 with my heart pounding and my mind racing. What was I going to wear? Would people even show up? Did I get all of the equipment we needed in order? What if something went wrong? Would the person at the venue take me seriously as a blind woman? I tried to breathe as I carried out my busy day, running from class to class around the bustling Berklee campus with my fiancé/percussionist, who was keeping me grounded.

I knew deep down that everything would work out, but I couldn't help but wonder if I chose the right shoes, if I was wearing the right outfit. I'd chosen a dress with decorative chain strands hanging from the bottom, over stockings. The chains got caught in the stockings, and they ripped, so I found myself running to TJ Maxx to buy more, which also ripped in the process of me trying to put them on. I had to go back to the store to find a pair of leggings, because I'd left mine at home. I had to video call my mom to verify that it would be acceptable for me to wear my comfortable flats. This was all quite stressful, but it ended up okay.

An hour before the show, as the band and I got ready to catch our ride to the venue, the biggest hiccup occurred. I was practicing the acoustic set with my fiancé, Shane, when his bongos fell from his lap. One of the heads completely broke and was no longer playable. I fought through my panic as we tried to ask around, the band members calling their friends. My door person, Cristy, and my keyboardist, Ellis, stayed back with Shane to see if they could borrow a set of bongos from the ensemble department at school. My guitarist, Sam; my bassist, Sophie; my drummer, Josh; and I made it to the venue right around when the show was supposed to start, while those who had stayed back made their way to join us. Shane called, letting me know that he could try to play with one bongo. I said that's what I needed him to do, because we were all going to be on that stage together.

We had a late start, and my anxiety nearly sent me into a tailspin, but everyone had a blast, and I've learned a few valuable lessons since then. My family and a few friends were there, and I've got the videos to prove it.

Being a performer is no cakewalk, never mind being a blind woman who is leading a band while dealing with venue owners who may or may not be easy to work with. There have been times when I didn't have print music charts for new band members; I had to learn the hard way to be prepared for everything. I've had to learn to ask for help because I couldn't use the sound systems that weren't like the ones I was used to, or because I didn't know how best to give a visual cue to my musicians when rehearsing for a gig or performance for school.

I did my senior recital online during the COVID pandemic. It was supposed to be in front of a live audience with my band onstage with me. Instead, it was me, set up in my kitchen at home with my sister behind the camera and my family in the other room, watching the Facebook live stream as I sang over backing tracks and put on a show by myself. Virtual performances have their own stressors for me as a blind performer. For example, you might not know how much of the background a phone camera will capture, no matter how many tips and tricks you have up your sleeve when setting it up. I have to send videos off to trusted friends and family before I post them, to make sure they look good. I've had to ask if I can be seen through my webcam performing live on Zoom. I have my pre-recorded videos screened after doing my best with my little tripod, Voiceover guidance, and my phone. I've figured out that my computer's webcam is perfectly centered when I move the screen back, and I don't have to worry about the background, so I've taken to recording my videos via Zoom and optimizing my audio settings to avoid having to get them checked or capturing my messy bed in the background.

It's not easy being a blind performer, whether you're pre-recording in front of a camera or booking gigs for a live audience, but you learn what works and how to navigate all of it. For me, it is so rewarding to put myself out there. I follow my big dreams, and I show the world that blind people are capable in the process of living the lives we want.

If you take away anything from all this, it's that you're not alone in any struggle you face. Asking for help isn't weakness, it’s strength, and the experience isn't as rewarding without people to share it with you. There's a network of blind performers who have been where you are, and you are always welcome to join the NFB Performing Arts Division. If I can do it, you can do it, too. Believe in yourself, because I already believe in you.

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