Even if you are an experienced actor or other performer, you may still experience stage fright or insecurity. But there are effective ways to deal with anxiety so you can work with more power and creative satisfaction.
The list of talented performers who have experienced stage fright includes Kim Basinger; Barbra Streisand; Alanis Morisette; Aretha Franklin; Nicolas Cage; Naomi Judd; Carly Simon, and Edie Falco, among many others.
In a CNN interview in 2002, actor Edie Falco talked about anxiety in a more general way, and said she had not experienced attacks in “many, many years, but everybody I know and love has gone through periods of anxiety. Everybody I know who has been pursuing a career in the arts. It’s a very difficult life to have chosen.
“And 15 years ago, when I was going through this, there were a lot of rough times, you know, wondering what the heck I was doing with my time, myself, my life.
[Interviewer: I think you described it one time as driving down a highway and then seeing what? A semi-tractor trailer cross over?]
Falco: “This is actually how my brother described it once. I thought it was perfect. It crosses the divider, and it’s coming at you and then you stay like that for five hours.”
[The photo is from her Showtime series ‘Nurse Jackie’.]
Some kind of distorted thinking such as perfectionism often sets off the fear.
Cherry Jones earned a Tony nomination for her acting in a play, but said she was “nearly paralyzed by a profound case of stage fright” from trying to live up to the “greatest performance” she had ever seen in the role, that of Colleen Dewhurst.
That sort of perfectionism can drive anxiety and insecurity. Trying to be “perfect” can be energizing and inspiring up to a point, but too much concern can lead to a drop in performance.
Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., describes in his book “The Pursuit of Perfect“ the interaction between arousal and peak performance, a concept developed by sports psychologists.
Dr. Shahar notes that top performers in every area may be disappointed when they fall short of their high expectations, but they do not get paralyzed by fear of possible failure.
And when they do fail, as everyone does sometimes, they accept it; they don’t catastrophize failure, as in “I screwed up that line, so they’re going to fire me.”
Being highly talented and accomplished does not prevent feeling anxiety and insecurity.
Nicole Kidman has admitted, “Every time I star in a film, I think I cannot act. I’ve tried to pull out of almost every one I’ve done because of sheer terror.”
Her ongoing stage fright is related to impostor or fraud feelings, which many gifted adults experience.
Actor Alison Lohman has talked about the energizing aspect of mild anxiety.
She said, “You never get over being scared and overwhelmed, because it’s a new character and that brings on a whole new set of circumstances. That’s the exciting part of it – it’s those nerves that bring you to a higher level and makes you more hyper-aware. It makes your performance better.”
Dealing with too much anxiety
There are many strategies to help you overcome anxiety or stage fright if it interferes with performance. There is no “magic pill” that will work for everyone, but here are a few approaches that may work for you.
Beyonce Knowles has said, “I get so terrified before I go on stage. My secret is no eye contact. I find that if I don’t look directly at people and just concentrate completely on the singing and dance moves then I can get through.”
That may be helpful, but it is more of a “Band-Aid” than a real solution.
Energy psychiatrist Judith Orloff, M.D. works with many actors and says she sometimes prescribes a beta blocker such as Inderal, a medication to reduce the fight or flight sensations like muscle tension and increased heart rate.
But in her book “Emotional Freedom“ she details what she says is a better way than drugs – a three minute mini-meditation that includes learning how to breathe, center and let thoughts flow by.
It may be very helpful to examine what you are thinking just before you get the feelings of stage fright, and then evaluate how accurate or realistic your thoughts are.
For a program based on changing self-limiting beliefs to overcome stage fright,
see the article Undo Public Speaking Fear – The Lefkoe Method
Also see article Overcome the Anxiety of Public Speaking.
Mastering stress and anxiety – a collection of articles, programs and other resources.