Overcoming Stage Fright with the Help of Masters and Ordinary Folk

June 11, 2018

Stage fright doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what age or ethnicity you are, nor how rich or poor. It doesn’t care if you’re a passionate aspiring actor or an acting veteran with many accolades. Relentlessly, it strikes on its own terms–just ask Andrew Garfield and Ethan Hawke!

As of Sunday night, British-American actor Andrew Garfield became a Tony-winner thanks to his Angels in America performance. His portrayal of Prior Walter who suffers from AIDS is truly a feat; after all, the two-part Broadway play runs for seven-and-a-half hours.

Certainly, Andrew has come a long way as an actor especially considering the fact that when he was just starting out, he didn’t think he was even worthy of stepping on a stage. In an Off Camera Show interview, Garfield stated that he suffers from issues of self-worth. Reflecting on his early acting experience in England, Andrew said, “I remember how I was going to walk on stage for the first time, and I thought I was going to die … I literally thought, ‘If I walk on that stage, I’m going to die … I’m a fraud, I have nothing to offer’ … that was the first feeling I had.”

But his internal struggle was interrupted soon thereafter as he strolled along the River Thames and happened across a humble man who was busking. Indeed, the musician’s guitar playing and singing talent was rather unremarkable, but he gave a heartfelt rendition of the Don McLean song Vincent, and it touched Andrew.

Garfield was taken by the fact that this man “picked up his instrument, he walked onto his stage on the concrete, and he breathed in and let himself express himself in the way that he felt called to.” His actions demonstrated to young Andrew just how important it is to show up as well as to be willing to expose your vulnerabilities and inadequacies. The realization was enough to make Andrew weep, and as if for dramatic effect, the clouds parted and the sun came out! The wholeness of the experience left Andrew feeling transformed. And he realized with absolute certainty, that if he didn’t go on stage, then he would die!

Little did the lone busker know the impact he made on a rising star who was at risk of not following his own calling because of incapacitating self-doubt. Garfield has gone on to be praised for his performances is Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Silence.

Ethan Hawke is a widely celebrated actor who’s been nominated for an Academy Award four times for his performances in Boyhood, Training Day, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. But when Hawke was invited to perform Shakespeare passages on the grand old Globe Theater stage in London for a charitable event, stage fright got ahold of him!

When Ethan realized he was expected to perform the legendary “To be or not to be” Hamlet speech sandwiched between two Thespian greats, Vanessa Redgrave and Paul Scofield– both whom can boast achieving the Triple Crown of Acting–he actually believed the artistic director was messing with him. During rehearsals, Hawke felt certain he was going to be the laughingstock of the show as he couldn’t imagine he was good enough to live up to that placement. The artistic director was Mark Rylance–who’d later go on to play Spielberg’s Big Friendly Giant, win an Oscar for his Bridge of Spies performance, and receive three Tony Awards– and he’d played Hamlet many times before. A Shakespearean master, Rylance gave Ethan a strategy to deliver the lines that had always worked for him–as Hawke shares in the video clip above. And the strategy worked! As it turns out, the legendary Scofield praised Hawke’s performance after the show.

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!