The house lights go down, and silence ripples across the theatre. Her wig is on, her make-up is set, and she is ready to perform. The band begins playing, a spotlight spreads from the centre of the stage, and there she stands – tall, blonde, and beautiful. Confidence becomes her as she opens her mouth and a melodious tune floats out. But there’s more than meets the eye…
Meet Jess Farrell, an aspiring professional music theatre performer, who suffers from anxiety. Over the past 16 years, Jess has been cast in 11 amateur shows across NSW, taking on ensemble, feature, and even lead roles – her most recent being ‘Inga’ in Miranda Musical Society’s “Young Frankenstein”. The 21-year-old attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, and started a degree in music theatre at the Australian Institute of Music (AiM) before transferring to the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where she hopes to return to next year to engage in further study.
For half of her performance life, Jess has struggled with anxiety in her daily life. As a retail assistant in a busy CBD store, she is forced to step out of her comfort zone as even the simplest of conversations can be tasking for her. She says, ‘It’s hard for me to talk to people, I never used to order my own food from a restaurant’ – and sometimes still doesn’t! As a close friend of hers, I have always marvelled at the fact that he can forget about her anxieties and worries during her performances, so I thought I’d dig a little deeper to find out just how she does it…
Focus, intent and immersion of character is her answer. And to me, this totally makes sense. As a performer myself, I know first hand how easy it is to lose yourself in a character or in the performance and forget all your insecurities, and all your self-deprecating thoughts. Taking on the role of a totally different person is often a release, and in Jess’s case, a way to control and overpower her anxiety, if only for a while.
It is estimated that over 2 million Australians suffer from anxiety in any one year. Thats about 1 in 10 of us, men and women alike. Here at the University of Wollongong alone, an average of 1-3 students present to the Wellbeing Centre with some form of anxiety PER DAY, according to Meredith Young-Whitford. That’s an average of 10 students per week, a statistic that increases around exam periods. And per month, around 1-3 students will present with severe anxiety. These statistics may not seem important, but they are also purely based on students who present to the Wellbeing Centre, and there will no doubt be many others who are either not aware of facilities available at UOW or who do not know what to do about anxiety.
Ms Young-Whitford places major significance on students being aware of the help available at UOW –
‘It is really important for our students to know that there is a great deal of support available to them. What is important is that they take advantage of these and manage any stress or anxiety before it becomes too much. Whilst it might seem contradictory, it is highly important to take time some from study to rest, exercise, socialise and have FUN! Positive emotions is such a huge protective factor against anxiety.‘
- Jess Farrell
- Meredith Young-Whitford, UOW Welbeing centre
The Facts 2016, Beyond Blue, viewed 17th October 2016
Miranda Musical Society (photographs)
Shire Music Theatre (photographs)