Facing fears…

The first week of October is when tickets for the Christmas Pantomime usually go on sale. It’s the busiest day of the year for staff in the Hawk’s Well Theatre, with queues out the door as parents frantically try to get their hands on the most sought-after tickets in town. It’s also one of my favourite gigs of the year.

Not this year unfortunately. It would have been the 42nd consecutive Christmas pantomime from Coolera Dramatic Society, but sadly it won’t be happening. It will be a strange month of December for everyone who is used to being involved in one of Sligo’s great entertainment institutions.

This also means that there will be no panto party. Traditionally held on the last night of the show in Coolera House, the night takes on a form that regulars are well used to at this stage. A bit of food, maybe a dance when the DJ plays the songs from the show, and then when the younger members of the cast go home, the adults retire to the bar for a chat about the show and maybe a sing-song, until they themselves are told to go home.

And recently I was reminded of one of these parties when listening to a discussion on public speaking – America’s biggest phobia, according to The Washington Post. I could empathise – I remember in my early days as a gigging musician staying quiet between songs, afraid to try and connect with the audience.

Because when you break down the fear of public speaking, it’s actually a fear of what others might think of us. At my gigs I was afraid that my inadequate chat between songs would stop people liking what we were playing. But if you can get over that fear, as DJ Scruffy Duffy showed at a famous panto party one year, it will lead to a better outcome for everyone.

Regular blog readers may have heard this story before, but bear with me.

Many readers will know Scruffy I’m sure. No more than the panto he is an entertainment institution in Sligo. But on this night in Coolera House he was struggling. It was late-ish, and those left at the party were getting comfortable at the bar. The easy thing for Scruffy to do would have been to stay at the back of the room and play his few tunes until whatever time was agreed.

Instead however, he put his reputation on the line, came down to the bar with microphone in hand, and hounded every person there (in his charming and entertaining way) until he had them all back out on the dance floor having a great time. He didn’t contemplate fears of failure, of how he would look to others. Instead he put himself out there and came out with his reputation enhanced.

The Coolera panto, Scruffy’s entertainment career and indeed all the success stories we know were once ideas that might not work. It takes courage to bring these ideas to life. And that might mean deciding to make a few fears irrelevant along the way.

*Column 5 for the Sligo Weekender. Published on October 1 2020.