Dealing with Nerves & Stage Fright

Dealing with nerves

Understanding nervousness
Accepting nerves
Setting Goals
Auditioning: 3 things
Look to the next moment

I’ve had several conversations lately with my students about how to deal with the terrible nerves they experience while auditioning or performing. While there is no magic cure to completely rid yourself of this anxiety or its symptoms, there are many ways of coping with it.

Nervousness is another word for stress. Everyone reacts to this stress differently (sweating, butterflies, trembling, freezing up, dry mouth, etc.). Feelings of stress trigger the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. When adrenaline is released your body increases circulation to your heart and muscles in preparation for “fight or flight.” In other words, your body recognizes that you’re afraid and wants to prepare you to protect yourself.

Acknowledging that nerves are serving a biological purpose can be helpful when you’re trying to overcome them. Don’t blame or shame yourself or your body for reacting this way. It’s natural and even useful. All this adrenaline coursing through your body is an upsurge in energy. We need energy to perform! Rather than deny or suppress the nerves, channel them into whatever emotion is appropriate to your performance.

Preparation is the best defense against nerves taking over. If you practice sufficiently, muscle memory will carry you through the physical reactions to stress. I also suggest developing a routine before performances. Always warm up properly, starting in the middle of your range and slowly drawing your voice into the upper and lower registers. Inhaling steam and lozenges combat a dry mouth, light yoga or meditation can calm the mind and relax the body. If you’re superstitious, knock on wood! Whatever will help you “get in the zone”.

Set goals for yourself. Focus on one simple thing in your performance that you will make sure to do. For instance, “I will hold this note out for 4 full beats.” or “I will not close my eyes during this phrase.” or “I will sing a good ‘oo’ vowel on this word.” Small things like this give you something to focus on that is easy to achieve. No performance will ever be perfect so you have to learn to reward yourself for smaller achievements.

Auditions in particular can take a toll on your self-worth because it feels like if you don’t get the part, you failed. But, TRUST me, it’s never that simple. Having been on both sides of the table, I can tell you that casting is a complicated process that can often come down to factors out of your control (hair color, height, ethnicity, voice type). Your job is to show them exactly who you are and what you can do then leave the rest up to fate. You cannot judge the quality of your audition by whether or not you were offered the role you wanted. I had a professor in college advise me to walk out of every audition with 3 things: something you did very well, something you can work on for next time, and something you learned. This way, it is always a successful audition because you leave it as a better, wiser performer.

The most important and perhaps the most difficult thing to teach yourself is to always be looking to the next moment while you’re performing. It is easy to judge ourselves when something doesn’t go exactly the way we want but the moment we dwell on those thoughts, we’ve lost the next moment. Always be thinking about the next phrase, the next inhale, the next motion, the next intention, etc. Doing this allows you to regain control. Chances are, you’re being far too hard on yourself and no one will realize that you didn’t sing exactly as you intended.

You are your own worst critic. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought that a performance went badly but those listening thought it went very well. There is not a performer alive who has not experienced the same crippling self-doubt and fear that you do. The ones who succeed are those that have powered through and used what they learn to improve upon the next performance. Don’t let nervousness or negative thoughts stop you from doing what you love!

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