Many actors, musicians and other creative people sometime experience stage fright or performance anxiety so much it interferes with their creative work and success.
And many authors on book tours, and coaches leading workshops, can also experience this kind of anxiety.
One of the emotionally or spiritually harmful results of anxiety is that it can possibly cause you to be overly critical of your life, to doubt yourself and your talents, and how you’re expressing them.
But some artists seem to find a degree of anxiety is just part of the experience of performing.
Getting nervous as a performer
In a roundtable discussion for The Envelope / Los Angeles Times, Charlize Theron asked Jennifer Lopez: “Do you get nervous?”
Lopez: “Sure. Absolutely. But here’s how I get nervous. And I think maybe you guys, because you’re all performers, feel this.
“It’s like you get that nervous energy and it’s just you’re used to it.
“Like I’m used to feeling a little bit of nervous energy and butterflies and everything before I’m getting ready.
“And a minute or two before, right when I’m about to go out and everybody’s rolling and I’m staring at the crowd and they can’t see me, it just goes real quiet.
“And something drops into my body where calm is your superpower. And then you’re in control.
“But absolutely I feel nervous and excited and butterflies and my heart beating out of my chest, all of those things.
“But in the fun way, not in the debilitating way.”
See below a selection of Programs to help master stage fright and performance anxiety.
Elisabeth Moss has said: “I don’t like public speaking, and I get a little bit of stage fright. My knees and hands will shake.
“I have this thing where my heart pounds so loud that my mike can pick it up.”
(The photo of Moss is from The Handmaid’s Tale.)
Ann Dowd was quoted in a 2015 New York Times article: “I have stage fright. I suppose every actor has a degree of it. It’s tedious.”
(Ann Dowd co-stars as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale.)
Beyoncé has said, “I get so terrified before I go on stage. My secret is no eye contact.”
See more in article How can anticipation drive stage fright?
Adele on her stage fright:
“I’m scared of audiences. I get shi**y scared. One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times.
“I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.” [Rolling Stone, 2012]
Also see my article Performers With Stage Fright and Anxiety – Lady Gaga, Felicity Huffman, Alanis Morissette, Jennifer Lawrence, Carrie Underwood, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Cecilia Bartoli and other artists.
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In an interview, Edie Falco said she had “not experienced anxiety 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.”
[CNN interview in 2002.]
That is one of the emotionally or spiritually harmful results of anxiety – it can possibly cause you to be overly critical of your life, to doubt yourself and your talents, and how you’re expressing them.
Nicole Kidman made her British stage debut in 1998 in The Blue Room, co-starring Iain Glen.
She recalled about meeting him the first time, “I was so shy I could hardly speak. I kept feeling like I was going to vomit: I had heard how brilliant Iain was on stage and he was formidable just as a person.”
She also had “absolute terror during the lead up to rehearsals. I was there the week before, starting to grapple with the accents and thinking, ‘What am I doing? This is crazy.’ … ‘This is madness,’ and I got really frightened.”
[From Naked in the warehouse, by Matt Wolf, The Telegraph UK, 10 Oct 2002]
In a 2015 episode of The Graham Norton Show, Kidman recalled her experience of stage fright:
[The audio in my short video here comes from the video: Nicole Kidman and Carey Mulligan discuss stage fright – The Graham Norton Show: Episode 3 – BBC One. Published on Oct 9, 2015.]
In this video, Nicole Kidman recalls being invited to perform in the production:
“I love doing plays here [in London] and I love the theater – I grew up going to the theater – and so I kind of jumped in going, “Yes, I’ll do a play” – and then the reality of it…the fear started to grip me and I had a terrible stage fright where it was a pounding heart, adrenaline surging through my body…”
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Kidman gives much credit to her acting coach Susan Batson, and says in the introduction to Batson’s book Truth: Personas, Needs, and Flaws in the Art of Building Actors and Creating Characters:
“I can’t create unless I have truth – I have to feel it. Susan helps me to find the truth in myself and use its purity, intimacy, and honesty to make my work real.”
That is another reason to deal with stage fright or anxiety: so you can be more fully and authentically yourself in whatever art you choose.
Many actors and musicians, and people in business giving presentations, use a beta blocker medication such as propranolol, which eases the physical symptoms of anxiety.
An article notes:
“James Hampton, a former tenor who is now artistic services manager at The Dallas Opera, says ‘There was a time I couldn’t go on stage without beta blockers. There is a degree of ‘good nerves’ that you want, but that can go too far.
“Hampton used propranolol for one stressful year, when he was overwhelmed by a shift from singing to stage direction and completing a doctorate.
“Before ending his singing career, he sang for four years without them, encouraged after he had a successful performance despite forgetting his pills at home.”
The article continues:
“Many performers value that very rush of adrenaline that sparks anxiety.
“It makes us aware of ourselves at a time when we need to be aware,” said Sally Nystuen Vahle of the Dallas Theater Center and acting and voice instructor at the University of North Texas.
“Beta blockers can introduce a dullness that interferes with that, according to Dr. Bernard Rubin, a professor at the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth and a physician who treats many musicians.
“For anyone facing even heart-pounding nerves, Rubin advocates “a little bit of time, a little bit of forethought and much less pharmacology.”
“Regardless of their stance on beta blockers for stage fright, every physician and performer interviewed said alternative relaxation techniques are also essential. And the No. 1 antidote to anxiety advocated by everyone is preparation.
“Practice, practice, practice,” said Kris Chesky, director of UNT’s Texas Center for Music and Medicine.
“And put everything in perspective. If you falter, your life is not going to end.”
Quotes from article “Beta blockers can help ease stage fright,” By Daphne Howland, The Dallas Morning News, July 13, 2009.
[Photo above: The Dallas Opera – Rod Gilfry in a production of THE MERRY WIDOW (2007). Photo credit: Karen Almond, Dallas Opera. Source: Dallas Opera Facebook Album.]
How can anticipations about your performance increase anxiety?
Psychotherapist Mihaela Ivan Holtz works with creative people in TV/Film, performing and fine arts.
In an article, she explains some of the inner dynamics of performance anxiety and what to do about relieving stage fright.
When you perform, you walk a fine line between excitement and fear.
In fact, fear and excitement come with similar hormones and bodily responses, like increased adrenaline and heart rate. Both making you ready for action!
The anticipations of the performance can take you on different journeys.
So, when you next perform, what journey will you embark on?
Is it the journey of feeling pure excitement? Is the journey of excitement mixed with fear?
Or, is the journey of fear taking you in a “freeze up” state?
> Read more in article How can anticipation drive stage fright?
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Programs to help master stage fright and performance anxiety
From the Udemy course page: This is a “focused, effective, online course for any performer who wants to be more confident on stage.
“Professional dancers, musicians, actors, conductors, and aspiring performers are all welcome.
“This course will help you get rid of that unnecessary pain and suffering, and let you stay focused and positive before and during your upcoming show.
“Non-performers can certainly join the class as well, as they may find interesting insights to help them at their next public speaking event.”
*Note – The above is an affiliate link (and perhaps others on this page), so the company pays me a commission, if you choose to purchase – no extra cost to you. See details below the end of this article.
“I am Luciane Cardassi, a professional concert pianist with a doctorate in Piano Performance and more than 2 decades of performance experience.
“I had serious issues with stage fright early in my career, and I know it can be exhausting to be a performer if you feel terrified every time you go on stage.
“We will go over the roots of your anxiety, practical steps to overcoming the anxiety, and how to stay focused on stage.
“By the end of the course you will have developed your own personalized pre-performance routine, with techniques that work for you.”
Learn more about the online course:
Practical Steps to Overcoming Performance Anxiety by Luciane Cardassi.
“Learn the exact steps to overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety based on scientific approach used in therapy.”
Course instructor Frank Valentine says :
“It took me 10 years to get on stage, but I can’t say that I wasted all this time. All this time I’ve spent learning why I cannot get on stage and what can I do to overcome that fear.
“Today, I can share this knowledge with you, so that you don’t have to waste any more time.”
Learn more at the Udemy course site:
Overcoming Stage Fright course
“Learn the skills and practical steps you can take today to overcome stage fright.”
Instructed by Chris Greenwood: Musician, Best Selling Author & Entrepreneur. Has more than 19,000 students enrolled in his Udemy courses.
As the artist Manafest I’ve sold over 300,000 albums worldwide, over 1,000,000 singles and toured over 21 different countries.
I’ve been on thousands of stages performing, speaking in almost every environment imaginable including jails, clubs, bars, schools, churches and corporations.
Over the last 10 years I continue to speak, play live shows, write songs and attend conferences improving and teaching my students everything I know.
I didn’t start out as excellent speaker/performer. I had to learn to overcome my fears including stage fright.
The good news is this course will give you all the training and tips you need to build confidence for the next time you take the stage.
These lessons are not theory but tried and tested in real life from someone who has done and still doing it.
Learn more about his Overcoming Stage Fright course.
Mel Robbins’ secret to beating the fear of public speaking
Robbins says, “I give about a hundred speeches a year. Do you know what happens in my body? My stomach hurts, my armpits are like Niagara Falls, my hands are clammy, my throat is tight, and I feel like I’m gonna throw up…My body is getting in a state to do something.”
Self-doubt can drive stage fright or public speaking fear.
Learn about a program to help deal with it, in article:
Kate Ford, an actress in “Coronation Street” and other projects, talked about using a cognitive-behavioral program:
“I have been suffering with nerves for years.
“It’s a fear of embarrassing myself if I’m in the company of strangers. But once you’ve broken the cycle of panic you are okay.
“The Linden Method really works for me.”
Learn more about this program in article:
How To Reduce Anxiety Using Behavioral Science – The Linden Method
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For anyone who can’t or won’t use beta blockers for stage fright, doctors, performance coaches and performers offer a number of stress reducers.
Here are some suggestions from an older article that is apparently no longer online – but still offers good suggestions;
Prepare well: People underestimate how much preparation any kind of presentation requires, says Rick Ericson, senior communications director at the LeMaster Group in Dallas, which provides media and presentation training for professionals.
“We recommend practicing 20 to 30 times, starting in front of a mirror or using a home video camera. The more you practice, the more comfortable you get with the words, and that allows you to practice your physical performance and do something with that nervous energy.”
Jimmy Clark, who plays first trombone with the Dallas Opera, advised making practice sessions as intense as a performance so your response will be the same.
“Try to make yourself nervous in practice,” he says.
Clark admits that speaking at recitals shakes him more than playing, but he hasn’t used beta blockers for either. “If I had a PowerPoint presentation to do, I would go in the room, fix the lighting, and have the talk virtually memorized. And get my friends to watch me practice.”
Get comfortable: Dress as comfortably as you can, according to what is appropriate for your venue and your audience.
“I don’t care how well you’ve prepared, if you are uncomfortable, you’re going to be thinking about that,” Ericson says. Instead of looking at the sea of people, make eye contact with individuals in the crowd, which will feel like a more manageable, one-on-one interaction.
Breathe: Actress Sally Nystuen Vahle believes that inadequate breathing is a major contributor to performance anxiety. She recommends loosening your back and rib cage by stretching your arms overhead to enable breath support.
Deep breaths can be calming and help return oxygen intake to normal, she says.
Stretch and prepare your body: Stretching can help you expend nervous energy, make you aware of any physical tensing up and help you relax.
“Visualize different parts of your body, tighten up your muscle groups, then relax them purposefully,” says Kris Chesky, director of UNT’s Texas Center for Music and Medicine.
Include an icebreaker: One reason so many speakers start with a joke or anecdote is not just to make the audience feel comfortable, but also to help themselves relax, according to Candace Evans, freelance opera director at the Dallas Opera.
Opening with a so-called high note can scale down the high-strung intensity. “A singer calls this a ‘tipping point,’ ” Evans says. “It’s getting early, positive feedback that you’re OK.”
Eat bananas (and avoid caffeine): Chesky recommends bananas to his jumpy music students and warns them away from coffee, which speeds up a racing heart.
Eating bananas theoretically could work like taking a beta blocker because potassium has a role in calming the heart, and many performers believe in them.
But there’s another reason they may work. “Of the people who do need help with performance anxiety, 20 percent to 25 percent will get a response from a placebo,” says Dr. Christopher Crow.
“Sports psychologists deal with this all the time: When the pressure’s on, how does my mind remain calm?”
Shifting anxiety with a mini-meditation
Energy psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of the book “Emotional Freedom.”
She uses beta blockers for some of her actor clients, but teaches everyone to do a three minute mini-meditation (also in her book Emotional Freedom) where they “learn how to breathe, center themselves, let their thoughts flow by, and focus on something really nurturing and positive for three minutes.
She thinks this “is a better way to learn how to shift your anxiety and really own the moment. You can do it anywhere.”
[Image from article Getting Over Stage Fright.]