John Lahr has a great essay on stage fright in the New Yorker issue of 28 August 2006; it's not available online, unfortunately, but here's the link for some of his other articles. Did everyone other than me know that Carly Simon has such bad stage fright that "she has been known to take the stage in tight boots, to jab her hand with clutched safety pins, and even, just before going on, to ask band members to spank her"?
At a celebration for President Bill Clinton's fiftieth birthday, at Radio City Music Hall, in 1996, Simon, terrified of following Smokey Robinson, invited the entire horn section to let her have it. 'They all took turns spanking me,' she says. 'During the last spank the curtain went up. The audience saw the aftermath, the sting on my face. I bet Olivier didn't do that.'
I like the idea of the fact-checker contacting the members of the horn section and asking them about the time they spanked Carly Simon....
It seems to me that there's a very fine line between the adrenaline rush you need to produce a good performance and the incapacitating stage fright that keeps someone like Stephen Fry from doing theater work these days. You have to like working on sheer nerve in order to thrive as a performer, but obviously the terrifying part is that one day all the accommodations you've made and that have served you well over the years suddenly stop working. It's beyond any rationality, and it's clearly often almost impossible to get over that kind of a collapse.