RSC stage-fright prize will honour Olivier in centenary year

02 March 2007

As a centenary tribute to Sir Laurence Olivier, widely judged the greatest actor of the 20th century, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is offering a prize for the most harrowing case of stage-fright experienced in the UK.

Olivier, born in May 1907, said shortly before his death in 1989 that he suffered only one attack - in late middle-age - of the dreaded affliction in a career spanning six decades.

In Olivier's case he begged fellow cast members not to make eye contact during his performance, believing that doing so would cause him to freeze on stage.

The Royal Society of Chemistry, stressing that all life is linked in some way to chemistry, and eager to honour a man whose intense level of performance was always a catalyst for others to act brilliantly alongside him, is offering a 600 prize to the individual relating the most startling, and verifiable, example of stage-fright occurring between January and May this year in the UK. 

The winner will be announced - assuming he or she has the nerve to appear - on Olivier's birthday, 22 May, outside the National Theatre, the creation of which was perhaps his greatest legacy to the nation.

Because stage-fright grasps people in everyday life, including the office, the RSC is inviting accounts that include drying up during presentations and talks of any kind in the workplace.

Criteria will include spirit, innovation and determination shown in overcoming an attack of stage-fright.

Chemistry, in the form of adrenaline, comes to the aid of many stage-fright victims, lifting them through the crisis.

Dr John Emsley, of Royal Society of Chemistry said today: "Adrenaline, scientific name epinephrine, is the chemical which the body produces at times of stress. Public speaking is a time when many people experience an adrenaline rush.

"Adrenaline is known as the fight-or-flight hormone and it is released into the blood stream from the adrenal glands and is triggered by nerve impulses from the brain. 

He added: "Adrenaline rapidly shifts several bodily processes into top gear, most noticeably the action of the heart. This begins to pound as it pumps faster and as it moves more blood per stoke. Adrenaline also releases glucose energy from our glycogen energy store.

"Adrenaline is an important part of medical treatment; small doses of only 0.2 mg are given to end an acute allergic attack, while doses a hundred times larger are needed in order to restart a stopped heart."

Once the danger is past then the body needs to deactivate the adrenaline molecules quickly, and this it does by oxidising them with the enzyme monoamine oxidase and discharging them into the bladder.

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