A True Fright for Actors

October 25, 2012

“I know when I walk out there, I’m not going to give the best performance. I’ll make a mistake. I’ll trip. I’ll do something stupid. But that’s okay; you pick up and just move on.” –Donny Osmond

Forget vampires, zombies, and werewolves. A legitimate fright for actors is to experience stage fright. You may be one of the fortunate ones who have never experienced it, but for those of you who have, stage fright or performance anxiety, is no walk through the park. It can cause uncontrollable tremors, a racing heart, queasiness, sweating, dry mouth–and worst of all–blanking out all the dialogue you had such a command of just moments before. Welcome to adrenaline overload. Some actors may superstitiously choose not to even think about stage fright in hopes of keeping it at bay. But, being informed can translate to being armed with helpful strategies in case the dreaded fright ever creeps into your performances. So keep these in your actor’s tool kit:

Prepare to Prevent
Know your material forward and backwards. When you’re able to naturally recite your lines, it helps ground you right from the get go. Feeling confident and familiar with the material will also help nix any emerging doubt of being capable. Similarly, being prepared includes dealing with your personal insecurities, whatever they may be. Whether it be dry mouth, concerns of having two left feet, or fatigue, you can make sure to have a nearby glass of water, wear comfortable shoes, or get a good night’s sleep in before the big performance. Michael Phelps’ coach used to purposefully crack his swim goggles during practice swims to force Michael to deal with any stressful situation that could present itself at the Olympics.

Get Active
Activities like walking, jogging, hiking, and swimming have been proven to actually boost your self-confidence and lower anxiety in the long run. Exercise can help in the short run as well; by simply taking a short walk, you can immediately soothe your nerves.

Breathing and stretching exercises can calm both the jittering body as well as the panicing mind. While there are many different breathing techniques to chose from, in general, they involve deeply inhaling through the nose, and thoroughly exhaling for longer length of time through the mouth. Likewise, creative visualization can successfully ease a case of butterflies before a big performances. Focus your thoughts on how much the audience is on your side, wishing the best for you. Imagine yourself succeeding, and the audience smiling, clapping, and giving you a standing ovation.

Challenge Negative Thoughts
Combat feelings of dread by emphasizing the opportunity to shine before you. If worst-case scenarios are plaguing your mind, take them one by one, and address them realistically. What if you stutter? What if it gets so bad you run off the stage? Would it really destroy the quality of your life?

Go with the Flow
Some readily accept the jitters and opt to just go with them, like rafting down the rapids. Choosing to greet your anxiety like a visiting guest–rather than a villain to battle–allows you to redirect your energy to the performance.

Remember, actors who struggled with stage fright include Meryl Streep, Ian Holm, Laurence Olivier, and Danny Osmond. They overcame it, and so can you!