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Whether it’s accepting an award, giving a toast at a wedding or simply telling a story to a group of strangers, many people have experienced the emotional upheaval that accompanies being the center of attention. Stage fright is frequently present along with the thrill of performing, and when it comes to a career in acting, these emotions are things you’ll need to combat and manage daily.

“Stage fright” is one of those terms people like to throw around a lot, but it’s an extremely nuanced, multi-faceted issue that can affect people in different ways. More importantly, finding a solution to your stage fright might require incorporating several approaches to properly manage it.

I’ve spent six years as an on-camera host for a series of interview-style broadcasts, as well as speaking in front of live audiences for the better part of a decade. It turns out that there isn’t one silver bullet for overcoming stage fright, and a solution that worked before, may not work in a new situation. You need to have a toolbox full of strategies.

Let’s take a few moments to dive deep into the art of overcoming stage fright, explore the importance of voice training for actors, and provide you with step-by-step instructions and insider knowledge to conquer performance anxiety.

Understanding Stage Fright:

Stage fright, scientifically known as performance anxiety, is a complex psychological and physiological response that arises when individuals find themselves in performance or evaluative situations. Actors, musicians, public speakers and anyone else under the pressure of presenting themselves to an audience frequently experience it.

The Science Behind Stage Fright

When confronted with the prospect of performing, the brain’s amygdala, the center responsible for processing emotions, triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response. This sets off a chain reaction of physiological reactions, including the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

When it comes to a career in performance, the perceived threat is not a physical danger, but rather the fear of judgment, rejection or failure. Regardless, it still kicks your body into high gear as if you’re being chased by a massive predator.

Symptoms of Stage Fright

The physical symptoms of stage fright can present differently for different people but often include a rapid heartbeat, trembling hands, sweaty palms, a dry mouth and a sensation of butterflies in the stomach.

Even the thoughts in your head can be affected. Individuals may experience feelings of self-doubt, nervousness and an overwhelming fear of making mistakes in front of others.

Stage Fright is Normal

You are not alone! Even the most celebrated actors, whose names are on billboards and sidewalks, have felt these same feelings at some point in their careers. It affects actors of all levels and across various performing arts. The entertainment industry’s fast-paced and demanding nature can intensify these feelings. Remember, this is part of the artistic journey.

Stage legends like Sir Laurence Olivier and modern-day icons like Meryl Streep have admitted to feeling nervous before stepping into the limelight.

Pro Tip: Denying the existence of something doesn’t make it any less real. Contrary to popular belief, denying you have stage fright may increase the intensity of your symptoms.

Acknowledging that you experience performance anxiety and permitting yourself is a powerful first step toward redirecting your energy toward finding solutions. It doesn’t make you any less of an actor; it makes you human.

Now that we understand what stage fright is, let’s look at some powerful things you can do to overcome it in your daily life and career. First, let’s look at something less of a fix or hack, and more of a supercharged skill that many successful actors use as a shield against performance anxiety.

Voice Training: A Powerful Weapon Against Stage Fright

In addition to being a crucial aspect of an actor’s skill set, vocal training can be a massive help in overcoming stage fright. The reason? One of the greatest weapons against insecurity is competence.

Voice training enhances your ability to deliver lines with clarity, emotion and resonance, captivating your audience and bringing your characters to life. As you master the art of vocal projection, you gain more confidence, which serves as a major weapon against stage fright.

Invest in voice acting lessons, speech classes and voiceover training to refine your vocal skills. Bonus: it’ll help build a strong foundation for your acting career and will be something you can carry into every aspect of your life.

How Can I Improve My Voice Acting Skills?

To hone your voice acting skills, consider doing a few of the following:

Enroll in Voice Acting Lessons:

A good coach is worth the price of admission. Get guidance from experienced voice coaches who can provide personalized feedback and tailor exercises to address your unique needs.

These lessons will help you understand the nuances of pacing, intonation and breath control, allowing you to deliver convincing performances.

Practice Voice Exercises Regularly:

Set aside time for daily vocal exercises to warm up your vocal cords and expand your range. Focus on things like articulation exercises and vocal scales to build strength and flexibility in your voice.

Embrace Character Work:

Delve into the psychology of your characters and experiment with different voices and accents. Fully embodying your roles will not only enhance your performances, but will also instill a sense of confidence on stage.

Pro Tip: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep your practice fun, loose and free-flowing. Maintaining this mindset while going through character work and vocal exercises will help you stay relaxed and loose when the stage lights come on.

Additional Techniques to Manage Performance Anxiety:

Having worked with many actors on stage and in front of the camera, I can tell you that nothing gives you more confidence than knowing you have honed the skills needed to handle what comes your way. Additionally, there are some really powerful techniques you can implement that can give you the edge. Let’s take a look.

Breathing Exercises

To effectively manage performance anxiety, incorporate simple breathing exercises into your pre-performance routine. Find a quiet space where you can relax and focus on your breath. Follow these steps:

Sit or stand comfortably with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.

Some people find it helpful to put a hand on their chest and the other on their stomach to help feel their breath.

Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your abdomen expand as you fill your lungs with air. Ensure your chest remains relatively still.

Exhale gently through your mouth, letting the air flow out steadily while feeling your abdomen contract.

Feel free to cycle through this process for a few minutes. When starting out, you might need to spend extra time getting into the flow of it. Focus on your breathing cadence and take note as the tension leaves different parts of your body.

Visualization Techniques

Harness the power of visualization to conquer performance anxiety and boost your confidence. To start, close your eyes and begin to let your imagination paint a picture of yourself performing the tasks at hand flawlessly. From there:

Picture the stage or set, the lights and the audience in front of you.

See yourself stepping into the character, fully embodying their emotions and intentions.

Hear the sound of your voice resonating with clarity and emotion.

Feel the positive energy from the audience, which is cheering you on.

By repeatedly visualizing successful performances, you create a mental blueprint for your actual performance, reducing anxiety and instilling a sense of assurance.

Routine and Preparation

Preparation is key to overcoming stage fright. The more you rehearse and know your material, the more confident you’ll feel when it’s time to perform. Follow these steps to establish a routine:

Set a consistent rehearsal schedule leading up to the performance. Divide your script or lines into manageable sections and practice them daily.

Practice in front of a mirror to observe your expressions, gestures and body language.

Record yourself during rehearsals and review the footage to identify areas for improvement.

Conduct mock performances with friends or fellow actors to gain feedback and build confidence.

Let’s look at some additional techniques that can work in specific performance settings:

Theater Performances

Embrace the unique energy of the live audience and turn any imperfections into opportunities for authenticity.

Connect with the audience: Make eye contact and engage with the spectators to establish a connection.

Embrace the adrenaline: Acknowledge the surge of adrenaline as a sign of excitement and channel it into your performance.

Practice improvisation: Be prepared for unexpected situations and trust your instincts to adapt in the moment.

Film and Television

Performing for the camera requires a different approach compared to live theater. Take time to understand these nuances.

Trust the director: Follow the director’s guidance and trust their vision for the scene.

Pro Tip: Many beginning actors make the mistake of overcomplicating things on set. The best thing you can do is understand the directions you are being given and execute them as succinctly as possible. This will do more for you in the eyes of decision-makers and will also cut down on performance anxiety.

Master subtlety: On-camera acting often requires subtler expressions and gestures to convey emotions effectively. Gain mastery in the area of subtlety, and you’ll have tons of confidence when things start rolling.

Take advantage of retakes: Unlike live theater, film and television allow for multiple takes, giving you opportunities to refine your performance. You never want to be the cause of a retake, but when they occur, take advantage of them to improve your performance incrementally. This will build confidence.

By preparing for each scenario and applying these techniques, you can turn stage fright into a powerful tool and deliver exceptional performances that resonate with audiences. Remember, embracing the journey of overcoming stage fright is an essential part of becoming a successful actor.

To Summarize

Stage fright is an inherent part of the performing arts journey; embrace it as a sign of growth.
With the right techniques, you can manage and even utilize performance anxiety to enhance your performance.
Breathing exercises, visualization and preparation are key strategies to overcome stage fright and deliver memorable performances.

Final Thoughts

Conquering stage fright through investing in voice training and implementing powerful strategies are vital steps toward unlocking your full potential. Embrace the normalcy of performance anxiety and approach it as you would any aspect of your craft.

Remember, every great actor has faced stage fright, and by channeling it into strength, you can captivate audiences and excel.

Join us at Casting Frontier, where you can find a supportive community and valuable resources like this to empower your acting journey.

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Written by David Fang