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Anyone in the performing world will know the feeling of sweaty palms and racing heart before going on stage. For many people, this is a feeling that never goes away. Even veterans in the performing arts like John Cleese have gone on record, saying that they still experience performance anxiety even after 40 years of experience. How to overcome stage fright is the age old question – but how is it done?
All sorts of advice over the years has emerged from performers. From the classic “imagine the audience naked”, “practice until you can’t get it wrong”, or “zone in on one person in the audience”. While perhaps working as some sort of placebo for some, this advice hasn’t worked for many of us. That’s why we’re here – to offer all performers some REAL advice on how to overcome stage fright.
Be sure to read through the whole article so you don’t miss out on any key information that will help you out!
Stage fright, or performance anxiety, can be defined as a feeling of nervousness before or during a performance. Millions of people all over the world, no matter their level of proficiency, suffer from debilitating stage fright that completely renders them unable to perform. They freeze up, forget their words, or their fingers refuse to cooperate. Why is performing in front of our bedroom mirror to no one so easy? But stumble over the simplest things as soon as we’re in front of people?
Performance anxiety is characterised by a number of physical symptoms. These include (but are not limited to) a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky voice, red face, perspiration, tremors, dizziness and queasiness. The physical symptoms we’ve mentioned may vary from person to person.
It is not unusual for a person to experience a physical symptom of stage fright that differs to others’ symptoms. Grammy winning singer, Adele has even admitted to projectile vomiting before a performance. So believe us when we tell you that you are not alone in this ordeal! There are many famous singers with stage fright.
Performance anxiety is essentially an acute form of social anxiety, which is an overwhelming fear of social situations and interaction with other people. But what are the underlying psychological reasons for this anxiety? Let’s take a look at the areas which cause performance anxiety in order to break them down. In doing this, we can recognise what causes stage fright in ourselves in order to conquer it!
One reason for stage fright is the fear of looking nervous. If we are nervous, then why are we scared of looking nervous? Letting this feeling spiral out of control perpetuates a vicious cycle so it is best to hit the nail on the head early. A much better solution to dealing with nerves is to accept that we are nervous and even enjoy the tingly nervous feelings.
Another common point many sufferers have is concerning the size of the audience. Many performers will say that they are unphased by a small audience. However, put them in front of a “big” audience, and they lose the will to show off their craft. This is a fairly odd notion since, if you think about it, the people in a small audience are exactly the same people as in a big audience.
A lot of the worry from large audiences comes from the fact that performers are worried that people are judging them. Despite this feeling, it’s alway very important to keep in mind the audience is actually rooting for you! They would not choose to spend their time – or money – watching an uncomfortable performer. They came because they want to be entertained and want you to succeed.
For many people, their past failures are a reason they would experience performance anxiety. However, it is worth considering why would your past performance affect this performance? This performance is at this present moment in time. Only your preparation for this moment will affect this performance.
If you are not satisfied with your current level of expertise, then there is always something you can do about it. We’ll give you a clue: it starts with a P. Charlie Parker became Bird because he embarrassed himself on stage one night, causing Joe Jones to throw a cymbal at him in anger. Terrified of repeating this same embarrassing show, he practiced until he became the greatest Jazz musician of his era.
Another common cause of stage fright is self-absorption. Sometimes you’re your own worst enemy and you can’t get out of your own head. Audiences seldom enjoy the performance of an actor who is totally wrapped up in themselves.
Finally, the act of comparing yourself to others can always be harmful to actors and performers. Ultimately, this constant comparison will cause you to experience performance anxiety. Don’t do it! You are yourself and they are themselves. They can’t be you, and you can’t be them. Just do your thing and people will love who you are!
Like most things in life, overcoming stage fright is going to take a little bit of work. But don’t fret, we will guide you on your way. Here are our ways to overcome performance anxiety:
A fantastic and recommended action you can take is to find out more about the Alexander technique. We advise that you find yourself a certified teacher in your area, or engage in some long distance learning.
This method has been informed by the author’s 20 years of experience in working with artists. Using this technique, a teacher will help you to feel better about yourself and to move in a more relaxed way. With some practice of this technique, you will become more comfortable in your own body. Your teacher will aid you in ridding yourself of all the bad habits you have clung to in your entire life.
However, this is not a spectator sport. One can’t simply just watch a video or read a book and have it down. This is something that will require some level of effort. There is a process for changing your habitual motion. The result is a better posture with more fluid movements and is sure to help actors with stage fright.
Autogenic Training is another method you can use in your quest in how to overcome stage fright. This relaxation technique was established by German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz, and was first published in 1932. The training is used to reduce the effects of stress-induced and psychological disorders, one of which being performance anxiety.
Using this technique, participants engage in multiple repetitions of a set of visualisations. For example, they will picture what “heavy arms” or “warm legs” are like. There are a set of exercises that are easy to learn and remember, and can be performed in any posture in a quiet room in your house.
There are several good resources on the internet that can be used to learn about this technique. It could also be worth your while getting in touch with a therapist who will be able to aid you further.
The key principle of cognitive behavioural methods for treating anxiety is that your thoughts affect your emotions. This has a domino effect which then affects your behaviour and your actions.
By undertaking cognitive behavioural therapy, you will be targeting and treating the root cause of the problem which, of course, is your thoughts. You will be able to find a therapist either in your area or one that will work remotely by searching online. Just remember to ask for and check up on a few references before enrolling for some sessions. It could be worth asking for possible references specifically for performance anxiety since that’s what we’re looking to overcome.
Byron Katie’s method is a simple process of examining our negative thoughts and questioning their validity. This is done in a straightforward, meditative way.
Using this approach, Byron Katie invites us to ask ourselves whether a particular thought is true. Once you have asked yourself this question, you will have to reply with a simple “Yes” or “No”. Then she questions whether this thought is definitely true and we know it for fact. If, after an appropriate period of meditation, the answer is still yes to these two questions, Katie asks us to reflect on how we react when we believe that thought. Finally, we are asked where we would be without that thought.
So, let’s take a look at an example which can be used in the case of performance anxiety. Say “People will judge me”. Do you know this is absolutely true? On reflection, most performers will confirm that they can’t know for sure that people will judge them. They also recognise that without the thought “people will judge me”, they would be able to perform at their highest level. This example is only a very short example of the possibilities for using this method to tackle performance anxiety.
So there we have everything we know about how to get over stage fright! We’ve looked at the causes of performance anxiety whilst breaking them down. In doing so, we can really question the validity of our fears as performers. Understanding these fears, we are able to conquer them and flourish, becoming the performers we know we are in our bedrooms! The key, as we’ve discussed, is to directly tackle the root of the problem – our thoughts. We’ve provided a variety of methods which you can use in overcoming stage fright.
We hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something you can implement in your next performance. We look forward to seeing you up in bright lights and more confident than you have ever been!
Whilst you’re here, why not check out some more of our articles on our blog? We recommend The Ultimate Guide On How To Learn Lines, How To Get An Acting Agent and How To Audition For A Movie to get you started!
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