Stage fright takes the stage
Song puts alumnus in spotlight
Joe Kowan '91 has now given his TEDx Talk on stage fright in Boston and Tunisia.
Stage fright causes Joe Kowan ’91 to shake, rattle and roll — and not musically. The singer/songwriter knows all too well what happens when he stands in front of an audience: the sweaty palms, the trembling hands, the knot in his stomach. His cure for stage fright was to write a song about it — a song that landed him on an even larger stage when he performed it for two TEDx Talks.
By day, Kowan is a graphic designer for State Street Corp., a financial services company in Boston.
After hours, he’s J-Krafty, singer of quirky songs about Big Foot, the cosmos, arts and crafts. “They’re not your typical songwriter songs,” he says. “They’re definitely offbeat, but I try to make them informative.”
“My name is Joe K. I’m the craft aggressor. Look what I made with tongue depressors.”
That’s a line from his video, “Crafty,” where a bedazzled J-Krafty raps about making “cozies for his brass knuckles.” His Website is called craftygangsta.com.
Kowan started out as a music major at Binghamton (“It was too hard,” he says.) He switched to psychology, but took a lot of art courses with Linda Sokolowski, now professor emeritus. And he kept writing music.
But his fear of performing was making it difficult for him to share his songs with more than just close friends. Then he got an idea: Write a song about stage fright as a way to get the audience on his side, “So we’re all one big happy, nervous, uncomfortable family,” he says.
It worked. Eventually he sang the song less and less. And that’s how he came to be a TED speaker.
When State Street participated in a TED Institute, Kowan answered a call for employee submissions and made the cut. He had six weeks to develop his talk. He worked with a TED coach, revamped the speech, cut it, edited it, did dress rehearsals and then, in the last two weeks before the actual talk, he practiced. “I probably practiced it a hundred times, four or five times a day.”
Kowan delivered the talk in November to colleagues. It was released on the TED.com site as the featured Talk of the Day about two months later. In just a few hours, the talk had nearly 40,000 views.
His colleagues were supportive and a bit surprised, he says. “I don’t give a lot of talks or speeches, so no one knew what to expect. I think people enjoyed it. It’s not controversial; everybody can get behind it.”
In April, Kowan took his talk on the road, traveling to Tunisia to participate in TEDxENAU.
“The students approached me after seeing my talk online, and after talking and doing some research I decided to go,” he says. “It was an amazing experience.”