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December 26, 2014
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February 8, 2015

Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety

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I am frequently asked, “how do you help your children with overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety?” Recently a reader submitted the question;

What practical tools or techniques can you give to help someone with their nervousness on stage?  What has worked for you?  I know that many famous actors struggle with that and still perform without the audience even knowing.

Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety StageFright LightIn my experience there are two main remedies for overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety.  The first remedy for visible nervousness while performing is rehearsal, preparation is key. If two people are equally nervous, the one that has prepared will be able to function through the nerves at a higher level than the one who hasn’t. When I was gathering information for this post I interviewed my own child performers. I was pleased to hear both Bryant and Payton respond first by saying they kill the nerves with steady practice.

Second, a nervous actor should be performing frequently, as often as possible. The more they do it the easier it gets. They should be using every opportunity to make weaknesses strong. Making live phone calls from a young age rather than just texting, asking questions in class, speaking to storekeepers etc. These are all things that the 90% of population who are petrified of public speaking, consistently avoid. A young, shy or nervous performer should be constantly finding opportunities to find their voice in everyday small acts of communication. Tweeners are at an age where they can comprehend this concept and begin to push themselves by becoming very versed at speaking publicly, with assertiveness, in their daily routines. Every opportunity to “perform” should be sought out and taken advantage of, like being the one in the group who volunteers to present the project etc.

From a tiny age I encouraged my children to speak clearly to get what they want. This includes ordering their own meals, getting information from an attendant while traveling and speaking with teachers or coaches to resolve issues. If my children want to know something, I encourage them to be polite, assertive and find out. The other advice I give is to be certain to encourage your children to step out of their comfort zone as early as possible. Try to encourage small children to speak or perform before they are keenly aware of the judgments of others. Then keep at it because if they don’t use it they will lose it!

estes-tarver Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety estes tarver1

Estes Tarver

My children’s phenomenal acting coach, Estes Tarver, was once painfully shy. Now he rocks any and every performance venue. He overcame his nerves by making the decision to be an actor, getting educated and doing it! Hard work supersedes talent. Estes echoes this sentiment;

 

    Estes Tarver
  • A lot of people think because they are shy that they cannot be an actor or have a career as an entertainer.  I was painfully shy as a child and much into adulthood.  I have worked through a lot of it but I still have my moments for sure.  I think the shyness can sometimes be a weapon.  Sometimes shy performers really do their homework because they want to make sure that what they are about to do in front of a crowd is good before they walk out.  It relieves them to be very prepared. Acting centers around the human condition. Shy or not we are all human.  We understand humanity, or we can learn to.  If you are a human being then you are qualified to be an actor.  Now just go out there and train and do it.  Training will also give you confidence.  I got a Master’s Degree in Acting and I think it really helped me with my confidence.  Some actors need that.  Some don’t…I did, very Much. The best way to deal with nerves are to know that you are allowed to have them.  Now just put them to use.  Nervousness is just energy. If you aren’t nervous then you just don’t care.  Even major stars get nervous. Allow yourself to be nervous and know that it’s okay.  Then move forward into your work.  Don’t worry about hiding the nerves.  Just allow them. The audience doesn’t see the nervousness unless you apologize for it. Getting to work will take your attention off of them and you will start to pay attention to the moment and your objective and the nerves will fall away.
    Estes Tarver
    Moonlight Stage Company

Things rarely if ever go exactly as planned in a performance. Learning to channel nerves into energy that can be used to fuel your performance is a great tool. It’s extremely empowering to be able to work through the nerves and be able to choose how you respond to them. Over time, performers will be able to choose their response. With age comes added perspective as well and that helps.

With the right teacher, acting classes can be extremely beneficial in overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety. Whether acting students ever “make it” in the biz or not, they are gaining incredible life skills. The ability to channel nerves is one of those, not to mention improved public speaking, self-awareness, confidence, poise, team work, perception, realizing other points of view and once they are auditioning how to handle rejection in constructive ways.

Overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Bry LoneRangerParty

Bryant’s Lone Ranger Premier Thank You Speech

Some of the other things my children do to channel nerves;

Payton rehearses, visualizes herself doing a great job and stays grounded by breathing deeply. If our nervous response is to hold our breath we need to be aware of this and remember to breathe. The brain needs enough oxygen to operate properly.

Bryant suffers from performance anxiety more than most and keeps performance nerves in perspective. He said, “It’s a few minutes of my life.” He says he practices a lot but not too much by reviewing the material each night to get it into the brain. One other trick he has is to release nervous energy in discrete ways like a small tapping of his thumb and pointer finger. I’m his mother and I’ve never noticed it so when he says discrete he means discrete. He stays in character especially if he makes a mistake. Bryant also said, “It gets easier as you go, the more you do it.” He said he covers his nerves with a sincere smile. Bryant shared other advice, “You have to want it so you are motivated to do it despite the nerves.”  When he has anticipatory anxiety, Like Estes says, he quiets the nerves by rehearsing, but again not too much.

Overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety Impromptu singing

Even the littlest Prince’s join in for an impromptu performance at a friend’s Christmas gathering.

I used to get over the top nervous for auditions, especially musical ones. Our singing voice is like the voice of our soul and I felt very exposed and vulnerable to have to sing in a room full of talented competition. I have taught my children all of the concepts and coping skills in this post since they were toddlers, yet I still struggled with nerves. One day I found myself in an audition with my children sitting on the front row watching me and waiting their turn. I realized in that moment that I had to do what I’d been teaching them for overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety.  I had to channel the nerves and execute my audition just as we’d practiced at home, and I did. Then they did. We have to make the decision to execute. Nerves make us feel out of control but it’s only true if we go into auto pilot and turn the reins over to our nervousness. Young performers need models of behavior to follow and replicate.

My children and I have performed and auditioned for plays together many times with good results partly because we prepare in rehearsal for what can go wrong. We talk about what if the audition pianist makes a mistake while we’re singing. We see what our weaknesses are in rehearsals and make a plan for how to overcome it in the performance.

I appreciate the contributions for this post from these gifted performers. Thank you.

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