OutPower

Overcoming Unconventional Stage Fright – Ila Amiri

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

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I used to count down the days until I would fly back to Duke University from my home in Los Angeles. I loved the freedom and the independence that came with college life across the country from traditional Middle Eastern parental supervision. While the occasional break from school was much needed and appreciated, I would always be itching to go back within a few days.

Being home felt like I was back in high school; taking steps backward to living with my parents and lugging a suitcase from house to house for every weekly custody change. It felt like my skin was on fire. It wasn’t until last summer when, by pure luck, I met a singer/songwriter that I really looked up to at a small concert in Hollywood, California. I introduced myself, asked if she would be willing to write together or hang out sometime, and left the music venue with her phone number in my contacts (thank you, networking!). It was through her that I met some of the kindest and most inspiring people in my life whom I am so lucky to call my friends. For the first time, I was counting down the days to go home.

I started booking gigs as a singer/songwriter myself, both in Los Angeles and near Duke with showcases such as Writer’s Block, Breaking Sound, and Sofar Sounds. I even ended up booking a gig at the same venue I met my now friend at where she came to cheer me on. Los Angeles finally started to feel like a place where I was working towards something new rather than just feeling like I was 17 again with no control over my life. I was on fire but in the best way possible.

As the move-in day for the Victory Congressional Internship approached after only 3 weeks of being back home for the summer, I wanted nothing less than to leave. It felt like a halt to the momentum I had finally built for my personal growth and artistry despite the immense potential ahead of me to grow so much more in a new city with all new people. But that was exactly what was so terrifying.

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I don’t get stage fright. 

I have performed in front of crowds as big as 3,800 people with not the slightest shake in my hands or tremble in my voice. It’s almost meditative. Relaxing. When I am taken off of the stage, however, and I don’t have a guitar in front of me like a chest plate of armor, that is when I get nervous. 

Music is my thing—the one thing I can confidently say that I am really good at. I have been playing the piano for 16 years, flute for 13, and guitar for 10. I have been singing since the 5th grade talent show and writing songs since I got my heart broken for the first time in my freshman year of high school. The resumé I sent in when applying for this very internship was crowded with music directing credits for a cappella groups and musical theatre productions. This is where I am most comfortable, where I feel like I have earned my seat at the table. Fly me out to Washington, D.C. to work in the office of a congressperson with nothing but a suitcase and a travel-sized guitar on my back and that is when I start to feel out of place.

Just a few hours after landing in Washington, D.C., I met about half of our intern cohort over dinner and I instantly fell in love with everyone’s vibrant personalities and infectious laughs. Within minutes, they had me feeling safe, welcome, and at home.

Just two days later, these same people—to no fault of their own—made me feel so small. My fellow Victory Congressional Interns presented their elevator pitches, describing their previous experience interning on the hill, their involvement in writing and passing bills, and more, and, there I was: the girl with little to no experience of her own in the field and an elevator pitch primarily about her musical accomplishments. Despite a very helpful imposter syndrome workshop telling us exactly not to, I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until later that it clicked for me: the way I use my music as my own form of representation, advocacy, and activism does not make me an outsider or at all undeserving, it makes me uniquely qualified. I slowly started to gain my bearings in the city, in the cohort, and in the office of Representative Ritchie Torres.

Instead of letting it isolate me, I used my music to connect with the people around me. Inspired by my performance as Riff Raff in Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s production of the Rocky Horror Show at Duke this past fall, I arranged an outing to attend a midnight showing at the Landmark Theater. I have also booked two shows with Sofar Sounds DC in my time here that everyone has shown nothing but support and enthusiasm for. As an added cherry on top, I am seeing my friend from that small concert venue in Hollywood on her tour in Silver Spring, MD later this month!

So, no, I don’t get stage fright. Maybe I should just start treating Washington, DC like a big stage. If anything goes

 south, I know that I’ve got an incredible cast by my side.