Even big stars aren’t immune to it. Barbra Streisand is famous for it. Carol Burnett has admitted to routinely vomiting pre-show. Stage fright can be crippling to some of the best performers. I myself rarely get extremely nervous before a performance but am often shaking in my boots prior to an important audition. The worst part about stage fright is that it prevents the audience or auditioners from seeing how wonderful you really are. You may not know that people—not actors, real people—routinely rank public speaking as their biggest fear. I mean… really? Over being attacked by a shark or crashing in a plane? Wow. Stage fright is some powerful stuff! Here’s my top ten list, compiled from personal experience as well as tips from other performers that I trust, in tackling that stage-a-phobia.
10 CREATE A PERSONAL BACKSTAGE ROUTINE
Lots of actors have pre-show rituals. Most of these have little to do with the actual show at hand and can be transported from one production to the next. Though perhaps not thought of as a ritual, some actors “get into the zone” by methodically applying their make-up. Taking the focus off what is about to occur can be enormously helpful. Others may do Sudoku, knit, pre-set their costumes, or even troll through Tinder.
9 GET PHYSICAL
Just like Olivia Newton John suggests, do some physical activity to get the blood pumping. I’ve seen performers doing jumping jacks or even taking a jog around the parking lot. In addition to a cardio-induced endorphin rush, some others like to stretch or execute some yoga poses backstage. If ashtanga or some other activity otherwise relaxes you, try bringing it backstage.
8 GET META-PHYSICAL
Lots of actors practice regular meditation and many employ this practice before rehearsals or performances. Sometimes just sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and allowing yourself to think of nothing in particular can be an excellent way to center and prepare. Studies show that meditation actually decreases blood pressure. If your mind is racing and you can’t stop thinking of the task ahead, allow yourself to have the thought, then quickly dismiss it. Some people prefer to repeat a word or short phrase in their head to facilitate clearing the mind.
7 BE PREPARED
Sometimes stage fright can bubble up due to a feeling of insecurity: you think you will stumble over your lines, miss a cue, or not hit the note. Hash tag, Idina Menzel. Many actors alleviate these fears by reciting their big monologue silently to themselves beforehand, singing pre-show scales to ensure the pitches are all there that night, or go over blocking in their head from the dressing room. If you have attended all the rehearsals, i.e. put in the work, take comfort in the fact that you have done your part to prepare.
6 ENGAGE WITH THE AUDIENCE
My pal Ian cured long-ago stage fright by simply pretending the audience isn’t even there. It’s easy to block out the audience from stage as you often can’t see them—the house is dark, lights are blaring in your face… no audience equals nothing to worry about, right? Like it’s just another rehearsal or run-through. He thinks of the laughter and audible reactions as merely an ongoing soundtrack to the show.
5 REALLY COMMIT TO THE IMAGINARY WORLD
Someone once told me “the best actors are insane”. At first, I took this as an affront, being a performer myself. But I started to realize that some actors are able to suspend their disbelief to such a degree, a part of them really believes they are living the on stage reality of the show. If you are incredibly engrossed and believe you are in the fictional locale, then you can’t get stage fright. After all, why would anyone get stage fright in an army bunker, or in Oz, or on a train with Kristin Chenoweth?
4 BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PUT INSIDE YOUR BODY
What you eat or drink right before a performance can most definitely have an impact on your psychological state. Just like opera singers refrain from dairy on the day of a performance to keep their voices phlegm-free, actors may choose to avoid caffeine, which can make you jittery, or have some citrus or dark chocolate beforehand, which can actually calm you down and decrease stress.
3 MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE AUDIENCE
I always love a pre-show. It gives me the chance to experience the audience as they enter the space. The mass audience, as a whole, is far more intimidating than thinking of the house as a group of individuals. Mingling with the audience during a pre-show allows you to have an interaction with them right upfront, removing the stressful initial entrance. I have lots of friends who like to peek out from behind the curtain as the audience loads, and see some faces. They might even find Aunt Ida in the fourth row and take some comfort in knowing exactly where a supportive audience member is sitting in the house.
2 USE IT!
That’s right, embrace your stage fright. My initial scene in the play RAFT OF THE MEDUSA was a violent hospital scene in which I was directed to “thrash about the bed” and “writhe in pain”. Awesome. I was able to get out all of my anxiety in that first scene and by the next entrance, I was calm as a school librarian in July. This can work in any situation where you have an entrance that requires a lot of energy.
1 REMEMBER THE AUDIENCE IS ON YOUR SIDE
Very few people—all right, there are some bitter reviewers out there, but they’re in the minority—come to a theatre performance and want it to be bad. The audience hopes you are wonderful—they’ve probably paid a lot of money to be entertained. They are routing for you, and most likely your comrades on stage are, as well. And in knowing that, if you still experience some jitters, know that you are in good company with some of theatre’s greats, and that it probably means you really care about your work, which is ultimately, all a director can ask of you on show-day.