Every performer knows the show must go on, no matter what. I learned very early on as an actor how to perform through pain. How to push the pain to the back of my mind to give the audience what they came to see. I was on my way to do a TV show in New York when I got the news that my dog died. I showed up to the studio with red, puffy eyes and struggled to sit in the makeup chair without crying. But when they called “action” I snapped into character with a smile on my face.

How to perform through pain

Last year I was in the hospital and had to fly out to do a speaking job that same day. I cut the hospital bracelet off on my way to the airport and put myself into a Zen mode. I was in no shape to be flying, but had no choice. It turned out to be one of the best speeches I had given and you would never guess from the video. The client had no idea what I was going through.

Last week I was scheduled to do a motivational speech and found out my mother died the day before I had to leave.  I had to put on a happy face and power through motivating the crowd, when I could barely motivate myself.

The show must go on!

Performers have to go through this all the time. If you work enough, you’ll probably eventually go through some kind of painful experience where you simply have to go on with the performance.

I know of a belly dancer who also juggled knives in her act. She said once she dropped the knife and it went straight into her foot, but she just pulled it out and kept on dancing. As soon as she got off stage she let out a scream. But while on stage she had to keep going.

Speaker who performed through pain

Here are some performers who prove the show must go on and how they do it:

“It was the day after the love of my life died of a brain tumor. The client had flown in his sales team from all across the U.S. And my job, was to educate and entertain them from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

There are two things that got me through this day and carry me through hardship to give it my best.

Focus on the audience — not me

Although the client may be empathetic, caring, even compassionate, they don’t really care what my problems are. They care about how they are going to get the training and entertainment for their team, keep the program on track, and get a return on the investment. To get through the day, I focused totally on the audience and giving them the best program I could give them. Make them laugh, make them cry, help them learn, answer their questions. No thinking about myself. Solely serving them.

Remind myself that I’m the best they are going to get today — so I better be good

The client has contracted with me. It’s too late to get them a substitute. It’s unfair (unethical) for me to not give my very best. The information is important for this audience. Do the job.

That was the toughest day I’ve worked as a speaker. The client never knew what I was going through and has since had me back to work with his team repeatedly.”

Laurie Richards is an accomplished speaker, strategist, and organizational consultant who works with leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, and other professionals to improve communication at every level. Known for her practical, interactive, and entertaining approach. She helps clients strategically plan outcome-based presentations. Put power into a PowerPoint. Prepare for media interviews, manage crises (before, during, and after), grow morale, build stronger teams, and improve everyday communications to directly affect the bottom line (including new business pitches, state-of-the-organization addresses, sales presentations, and meetings. Many of Richards’ programs include personality profiling. She uses Myers-Briggs, DISC, Social Styles, and Fascination Advantage.  This helps clients work better as teams, improve efficiencies, select best candidates, and coach employees.

Laurie Richards holds degrees in communication and business management, and a variety of certifications in micro-expressions and psychological profiling. She is currently working toward her Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology.For more information, visit: www.LaurieRichards.com.

Long running play

“I am an actress is a very long running play in NY called Perfect Crime; I’ve gone onstage 8 times/week since April of 1987 and have only missed 4 performances in 31 years for my siblings’ weddings.

So I have literally performed through every life experience – break ups, death and illness of loved ones, sickness, the 9/11 attack, etc. My mother died on a Saturday between a matinee and an evening performance and I did the evening show. I am not crazy (well, maybe a little) but it was strangely comforting to do the show that night.

I have given this a lot of thought and I think performing has been enormously helpful to me in terms of dealing with hardship. It’s an appropriate emotional outlet. It’s distracting in times of trouble. Sometimes when I am onstage fully engaged, a small part of my brain is actually also problem solving so I end up having a solution to whatever is bothering me after the show. So performing allows me to be creative in multiple ways.”

Catherine Russell
General Manager
The Theater Center
1627 Broadway @ 50th St
212 921 7862 (theater)

Ballroom dancer

“I’m a competitive ballroom dancer and blogger. I’ve been training in ballroom dance since 2012, started competing in 2014, and most recently, have won a World Champion title in the style American Smooth. I blog as The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. I share the good, the bad, and the awkward of my journey while shedding light on the rarely addressed mental and emotional aspects of being a ballroom dancer.

Like so many of my fellow dancers, I’ve danced through physical injuries and illnesses. I’ve danced through anxiety and/or panic attacks. I danced through the end of my marriage.

When your passion for dance is so strong that it becomes something you must do, instead of just like to do, there is very little that will keep you from it. My teacher and dance partner even tried to dance with a severely broken wrist! No matter the style, dance requires a high level of discipline and commitment. I have to push through mental and physical hurdles every day just to train and practice. This trains me to push through them at performance time.

Dance is such a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing sport. You have to have a good amount of grit to survive and thrive in it, because otherwise it will chew you up and spit you out.

Preparation is key

As far as techniques for getting through specific hardships, preparation is key. Taking good care of my body throughout training reduces the risk of injury, and if I am injured, it reduces the severity. Preparation is key for my mental state as well. My warmup process at competitions includes a lot of mindset work to help me focus and be present in the moment. My best dance performance requires me to be fully present in the moment. Dance actually provides an escape. Everything else fades away as I move with my partner to the music. And if there is something that refuses to fade, I use it. I tap into the emotions I’m feeling and redirect them into my dancing.”

Katie Flashner, a.k.a. The Girl with the Tree Tattoo, is a ballroom dancer and blogger. Her mission is to inspire and motivate her fellow ballroom dancers to become the performers they are born to be instead of the ones that others want them to be.

World Champion ballroom dancer

Katie has been studying ballroom dance since 2012 and has successfully competed as an amateur ballroom dancer since 2014. Most recently she won the World Champion title in American Smooth. Since starting her blog in 2015, Katie has welcomed over 1,600 followers who value her openness and willingness to share the good, the bad, and the awkward of her journey while shedding light on the rarely addressed mental and emotional aspects of being a ballroom dancer.

In addition to writing on her blog, Katie regularly contributes articles to FloDance and Sheer Dance magazine. She has also been featured on DanceBeat, Dancesport Place, Dance Comp Review, and Dance Advantage. Her best-selling digital book series, Dance Diaries, received over 4 stars in Amazon reviews.

Katie lives in Orange County, California with her two dogs and has just released her latest work, The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing.


Professional musician and performer

“My name is Alissa Musto and I am a professional musician and performer based in Boston, MA.

Growing up in a family of professional musicians, the concept of the “show must go on” was instilled in me from a young age. There are certainly days where I feel absolutely terrible, either emotionally or physically, and don’t want to go on stage. I remind myself though that this may be somebody’s first and only impression of me. Whatever I’m going through is temporary and probably will be resolved in a week. The consequences of a bad performance, however, live on a lot longer.

Crunch moments

I like to refer to these instances as “crunch moments”; I’m totally overwhelmed, I’m tired, I’m upset, I’m stressed, I’m probably running behind and then on top of all that, something else unexpected happens. If I took the time to really think about and process everything going on in that moment, I’d probably break down. Instead, I just acknowledge that I’ve hit “crunch time” and that I indisputably have to move forward and figure everything else out later. At that point, there is no room for procrastination or self-doubt. I buy my favorite $7 Starbucks coffee drink and remind myself that “dealing with it” is what distinguishes me as a professional from millions of other aspiring performers.

Alissa Musto

What are your techniques for performing through pain?