Overcoming Stage Fright

 

During my freshman year of high school, I realized I had a problem ― a big problem as a musician and an actor: I had stage fright.

Actually, it wasn’t so much stage fright as it was audition fright. The few times I’d auditioned for something, I became so nervous that I couldn’t perform with any competence. And if I froze on a line or choked on a musical phrase, I’d lose the part. Game over.

My first audition, I tensed up. My stomach felt sick, and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. I nearly left before my audition was over. The performance was terrible, abhorrent even.

Well, that’s where my performance life should have ended, right?

No. I did another audition. And, to no great surprise, the results were much the same.

Okay, this is where I give up, yes?

Nope. I auditioned again.

I auditioned again and again and again. Dance, chorus solos, orchestra class, musicals, I auditioned over and over because I knew that the only way to desensitize myself to the experience was to expose myself to it until something changed.

Fortunately, I didn’t just put myself out there over and over without making adjustments. I tried closing my eyes. I tried picturing everyone in their underwear (and that definitely doesn’t work, by the way). And I tried talking to the judges about my fright before hand.

Over the course of 4 years, I eventually found methods that removed the issue. And it’s a good thing too, because by that time, I had to prepare my audition for music conservatory. And that’s where it really mattered.

If you’re suffering from stage fright, and you’re not sure what to do, here are 3 tips I learned that will help you perform with grace, and kick the stage fight blues for good.


Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Need I say it again? It seems obvious. Of course you’re going to prepare for an audition or performance. Why wouldn’t you?

But many people only half prepare for the big day. They may memorize their lines, but fail say them exactly the way they should be said over and over. They may learn the song, but they don’t drill every phrase, exactly where they want to place their tongue, and exactly how much vibrato they want to place on a singular note.

Your material needs to become second nature. You need to become so familiar with what you’re performing that you can solve a quadratic equation while elegantly executing your part. Anything short of a gunshot to the head shouldn’t be able to shake you.

Because when you’ve locked in with your performance, you can be as afraid as you want, but you’re still going to nail that tricky guitar lick. It has moved into the zone of muscle memory.


Find Your Center

Find your center. Your cream-filled center if you happen to be a twinkie. I include this because after working with many actors and musicians, this seems to be the most common method for shaking off the nerves (this actually doesn’t work too well for me, but it works for almost everyone else).

You need to find who you are outside of the performance, and grab hold of that person. Quiet your fears and concerns. Tune out your internal critic. Forget that there's an audience that may or may not be judging your every move. This is about you and your connection with the work.

@@When you walk on stage, there’s nothing else that matters.@@ You’re completely in the moment. You’re completely in flow. Now, I said this method doesn’t work best for me, but when I walk on stage, I’m completely in the moment and in a state of flow.


You’re Not Afraid. You’re Excited.

There’s something curious about nervousness and fear. It’s almost the same physiological response to a situation as excitement. The fear response we tend to view in a negative light. The excited response we tend to view as good.

I’m the kind of person who can talk myself out of something I know to be true. This is a dangerous ability in many situations, but when it comes to stage fright, it’s perfection.

You’re excited, not afraid. You’re about to do something awesome that you’ve worked really hard on. Go talk to someone. Smile. Laugh and talk about something funny. If you’re like me, you can hack yourself into thinking you’re pumped up.

I do this literally until the moment I step on stage. Once I’m on stage, I’m in the moment, because there hasn’t been any time to think about anything else but the moment. I fall into flow instantly.


A Little More About Being in the Moment

Do you remember having stage fright as a child? Many children don’t have stage fright in youth, but, as they get older, somehow it emerges.

Children are almost always in the moment. They rarely worry. They have almost zero inhibitions. If you ask a seven-year-old where they see themselves in 10 to 15 years, they likely won’t have a prepared answer, because the future is irrelevant.

@@What is relevant is today. This very minute. Right here. Right now.@@

When you’re in the moment, there’s no future or past. There’s no criticism of a job poorly done or someone remembering you as the worst performance they’ve ever seen. There’s only you, the world, and what you’re about to show it.

Find that, and the fear can never control you again.


What About You?

I hope this gave you a few ideas to try before your next audition or performance. If so, please share it with someone who might need it.

Do you suffer from stage fright?

What have you done to overcome it?

Leave a comment below and let me know!