• James Stranahan

Suggestions for Getting Over Stage Fright

Ah, stage fright. It’s the curse of every actor no matter how good they get. Take a poll of the stars of any Broadway play, and I’m betting 100% of them will tell you they’ve struggled with it at some point in their careers. If you’ve ever been backstage in a theater or on a film set, you’ve probably seen cast members off in their little worlds, concentrating on staying calm even though they’ll be performing in a matter of minutes. They no doubt want to hurl just as much as you do, but thankfully it doesn’t have to turn out that way. There’s a lot you can do to keep your lunch where it’s supposed to be and walk out in front of the audience, ready to use your acting abilities to give them a real show.

First, as an actor, I’ve found it helpful to remember that I am there to give the audience what they’re expecting: a performance. Sometimes we actors get hung up on how silly we might look or how odd we may sound. We are, after all, being asked to step into the shoes of characters totally different from ourselves, and if we let it, that can make us feel self-conscious. I like to remind myself that the audience isn’t going to think that I’m bizarre - far from it. Instead, I’ll be giving them what they really want: access to a character who is very different from them, too, and who is important to the storyline. It’s my job to bring that character alive so that the plot moves forward. Remembering this often helps me to calm down when I feel nervous before a performance.

Second, learn the signs that indicate you’re nervous. For me and many other people, it’s a tightening in the stomach. When I start to feel anxious, my stomach knots up, so relaxing is often as simple as breathing deeply and releasing that tension. I learned that back in middle school when I was in a play called “Little Lord Fauntleroy”. Standing in the wings while waiting for my cue, I felt panic. What if I forgot my lines? What if I stumbled while running across the stage? All those “what ifs” hit me, and there went my stomach. My dad had told me earlier that breathing helped, so I concentrated on breathing in through my nose and out from my mouth. As I did, the butterflies slowly diminished, and I was able to walk on stage without barfing, which my character certainly wasn’t called to do.

I’ve talked a lot about stage fright with other actors, and we all agree on this: it is vitally important that you monitor what’s going on in your mind. What are you telling yourself as you get ready in the dressing room? Are you reassuring yourself that you’re going to do well? Or, are you worrying endlessly that you’re going to flub the same lines that you stumbled on in rehearsals? I’m a big believer that the more you tell yourself that you’re going to do just fine, the more able you will be to stay calm, focus on your “moment before” and, in fact, do just fine.

Last, watch out for your posture. When we get anxious, how we hold ourselves tends to change. We slouch, and we look down. We get into our own little world that revolves around how nervous we are, and our bodies shrink, so to speak. When you catch yourself on the verge of stage fright, check what’s happening with your body. Stand up straight and lift your head. Raise and lower your shoulders a few times. Walk around and loosen up. Doing simple things like this will remind your body that fear is not in charge: you are. Walk confidently, and you’ll be confident, in other words.

No matter how long you’re in show business, stage fright is going to come. The great thing, though, is that the more experience you get, the faster you can vanquish it when it comes. The show will always go on!

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