Above: Photos: Georgi Mottram. Courtesy of Alison Duguid and Georgi Mottram
Georgi Mottram, originally from the isle of Jersey, is a classical ‘crossover’ soprano. This means the performer has developed a strong classical side to her performances while, at the same time, making her sound and image accessible and appealing to a much wider audience than just classical music fans.
She has performed in the West End and all over the world and enjoyed success as one quarter of operatic singing group, Ida, despite dealing with acute anxiety which, sadly is not uncommon with performers.
Unable to escape the effects of Covid-19, and with a year of work wiped out, Georgi has temporarily headed back to the Channel Islands…
You’re back on Jersey at the moment?
“Yes. I think there are only about a hundred cases on Jersey right now, so it’s pretty non-existent. I was living in London but when everything got cancelled I came back to Jersey to stay for a bit. I’m teaching at a school at the moment; we socially distance a little bit but it’s not like it is in the mainland UK. In one school I do mask up but in another they are happy not to wear face coverings. It must be a decision between the teachers and the parents. But it really feels very non-existent here. It’s interesting coming back here from London, which is really feeling it right now.”
Can you tell us a little bit of your background and perhaps WHAT led you to Breathwork?
“I left the island when I was 16 to go to Chetham’s School of Music which is a specialist school in Manchester. After that I went to Trinity School of Music which is now called Trinity Laban, so I did my opera training there for four years. Basically, I lived in London auditioning for shows. I did some at the Charing Cross Theatre, the Rose Theatre in Kingston – where I was a lead which was really cool – then, at the Adelphi Theatre. I then did an off-West End show called Princess Ida, where I met the girls of the group I’m in now called Ida; we are a classical crossover group. I am the director and so I manage us too and basically we’ve done everything from performing at Windsor Castle for Prince Edward to the BBC. We were also Classic Brit award nominees after releasing our album into the classical charts. We’ve basically been touring the world doing all sorts such as festivals in Australia, cruise ships, West End Live to the extent where we were pretty much booked out for every week of the year – until COVID-19.”
“We lost so much work. I had been taking about 50 long-haul flights a year. Once, we were in Australia about three times as well as being in New Zealand the same year, so there was a lot of back-and-forth travelling. Of course, everything got cancelled.”
“So I had a good look at my life as, up to that point, I’d been running on empty. I was suffering from a mix of acute anxiety and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] due to quite a lot of emotional things that had happened to me – in addition to the performing. As a performer you’re consistently using up all your adrenaline so it’s pretty easy to burn out, and I was running on my fight-or-flight response all the time. Ultimately, I had – not a nervous breakdown, but similar. I couldn’t get out of it beforehand because of the performing. I suppose if I had a less-pressured job where I weren’t standing in front of thousands of people and therefore could turn down the balance of the state of my nervous system I could potentially switch my parasympathetic nervous response, but I didn’t. So I ended up in a place that was pretty bad.”
“I’ve seen therapists and healthcare professionals who all prescribed me antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. But I thought there had to be another option, surely; there must be something else I can do. The only advice I got was to quit work, go on long walks every day and meditate. Then, maybe, just maybe, ‘in six months’ time you might be better, but I kind of doubt it.’ So I started researching about other performers who have anxiety and I discovered all this information. It’s everywhere. For instance, Anne Hathaway came out saying she had social anxiety, Camila Cabello has struggled with acute anxiety leading her to meditate six, seven or eight times a day. Lots of stars you see, who appear to be really nailing it, are actually suffering from anxiety. So many performers. We’re in this constant high state where we can’t turn the dial down. That’s when I accidentally came across Breathwork.”
“I was at the end of my tether and thought, ‘I really can’t carry on living like this,’ when I found a free Breathwork exercise online and I tried it for twenty minutes. Afterwards I couldn’t believe it; it was the first day in four months that I felt I didn’t have any anxiety in my body… ‘What is going on?’ So I looked into it a bit more and discovered that breathing is a great way to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system. From there I started to get into it in a bigger way and dislodged all of the anxiety from my body. That leads to your mind healing because it’s gone from your body. Your body absolutely controls how your mind operates, so where Breathwork strips the body of anxiety and trauma, your mind will naturally clear as well. I trained in it and had a lot of sessions myself as part of that training. You think rationally so all of a sudden you can’t remember what it’s like to be anxious.”
Doesn’t drama school teach you why breathing is so important as part of your training?
“It probably should do, but I never got taught it. For instance, I had no idea that your breath was directly correlated to your parasympathetic nervous system. I didn’t realise that affirmative thinking – which is really useful for performers – works very quickly and very potently when your body is in a ‘calm’ state. And as a performer you kinda want to have a handle on what thoughts you’re acting upon; you can’t let fear take over for instance. You’ve got to be firing and wiring and working the muscle of your brain to have empowering thoughts. We were never taught affirmative thinking at college, but I’ve since found it works for me when your body is in the correct state. It’s interesting how at college we were never taught that our breath could directly change what was happening in our body; for instance, if you go on stage there are breath ‘hacks’. You can be breathing in a certain way to turn the dial of your anxiety – or whatever is happening – down, leaving you to perform in a calm way. No, we were never taught that at college.”
I’m amazed that even studying opera, you aren’t given an insight into the power of breathing?
“The trouble is, even though it’s ancient, it’s also a relatively new concept. At college it was all about the voice and I did have incredible training in that area, but we didn’t really get trained on how to master your mind. I suppose if we were preparing for the Olympics we would have our mind coach who would be dealing with related techniques as a vital part of the preparation. We don’t have that at college, but we probably should because we’re going to be putting ourselves under so much pressure. Mental training turns out to be very important; which tools to grab in order to have a long and successful career. There are so many examples of people in the West End even who have had to quit because of having too much anxiety. The last Elphaba in Wicked had to quit because she had too much anxiety; what a brave but tragic decision.”
take away the career aspect and the need to earn a living from performing, what about amateurs – we’ve all had to take a year off!
“When I used to do am-dram, people would get so nervous and build up so much anxiety before going onstage. But because I’ve been a professional who has had to earn a living performing in a thousand shows, I’ve had to learn how to navigate and create affirmations in my mind in order to perform. If you’re an amateur you’re not necessarily doing this all the time so you wouldn’t necessarily learn this just by chance. Breathwork can help everyone because anxiety is a bit of an epidemic, especially at the moment with us all in the middle of this pandemic. Wherever you look people are feeling it; if you turn on the news everything seems to be giving people anxiety at the moment. It puts you in a fearful state. Where Breathwork comes in is that it dislodges that; it drenches your body in oxygen and turns on your para-sympathetic nervous system better than anything I’ve experienced. Your mind is then free to create more empowering thoughts.”
“An amateur performer is just as important as a professional because you are still conveying a message, you’ve still got an audience. I’ve always said to my family, ‘I’m just happy singing, and if that’s on a stage in Jersey with my old amateur dramatics group then I’ll be happy.’ Performers do it because they love it, right? It doesn’t matter whether you’re being paid for it or not; it’s just a really nice bonus to get paid, ha ha!”
Tell us about am-dram before becoming a pro?
“Ha, I did am-dram when I was professional! There was a production of Les Mis in Jersey, which is a show I’ve always wanted to do. So I blocked out two months of my professional performing schedule to come and do it at Jersey Opera house. That was about four years ago when I was twenty-six. I played Cosette; I used to have a real baby face, before I got my wrinkles. So I did am-dram here. The level, by the way, is insanely good.”
Do you have any performing advice you can give?
“Whether you’re professional or not, you might get the fear before performing again but I can assure you it is like riding a bike. You will remember it and you will be okay. You’ve done it before so you can do it again. It’s okay to expect the fear. You’ve got to hone in on the reason why you perform, why you’re doing it, why you love the music. Also, it’s worth remembering that everyone is in the same boat at the moment and they’re all probably feeling the same thing. Have a look at the affirmations you can say to yourself, empowering affirmations. Obviously, if you can get your hands on any Breathwork exercises they will help you enormously. Calm your body and thus calm your brain. My website has some bits and exercises you can do plus, on social media, I post some little exercises for people to do.”
What if anybody reading this contacts you?
“Lots of my clients are performers, mostly professionals. One was in Phantom of the Opera before it closed, plus I’ve got clients from drama schools such as Guildhall, Trinity Laban etc. But whether you’re amateur or pro, all performers – a performer is a performer – get a 50% discount off my normal rates.”
Any parting words?
“Anxiety, fear, stage fright, whatever it might be can feel out of your control. It’s not! Many performers feel like this is just something that happens to them but if you know the right tools to use you can change things that are going on in your body and thus make it easier to create better thoughts, empowering thoughts. That’s the most important thing. Some get embarrassed: ‘we’ll think they are lesser because it happens’, but it’s simply your fight-or-flight response bubbling over. There’s so much stigma around it but they really shouldn’t be. Something is happening in your body that you think you can’t control, but you can. It can happen to anyone, I want to break the stigma.”