After a recent performance, I was packing up the stuff in my dressing room. A woman knocked on the door and said, “Can I ask you something?” I invited her in. She asked me how long I had been performing. I told her. Then she said, “What I’d like to know is — when did you get over stage fright?”
At moments like this, I always wish my husband were standing behind me so he could say, “Ha!”
But alas for him, he wasn’t there to revel.
So, I took a deep breath and said, “I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet.” Then, I told her the truth: that for the first whole year of performing, I was terrified every night I got onto a stage, even if the “stage” was made of shipping pallets and duct tape. The only thing that changed was my ability to channel the fear. After about two years of performing constantly, getting on a stage became part of my routine. It wasn’t a big THING anymore. But I still got (and get) stage fright. I’m just better at it now.
Here’s the main point: If you’re waiting to get over stage fright before you’ll perform, do a speaking engagement, teach a workshop, or read a poem at open mic night, then you’ll be waiting a VERY long time. Stage fright shrinks because of taking action.
It’s a lot like self-esteem. If you’re waiting for self-esteem to show up before you start a business, take the next step, write a song, create a blog, apply for a job, or audition for a part, then you’ll be waiting for a long time. Self-esteem grows because of taking action.
The bad news is this: it comes down to taking action. Once you take action, you’ll learn how to overcome your own brand of stage fright.
9 Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright
Nonetheless, here are a few little tricks to do if you’re feeling anxiety ridden about a particular show or event:
1. Give yourself a stop-time for your anxiety.
This is something I invented a long time ago, and it works better than anything else I’ve tried. If the show is at 8pm, then say to yourself, “Self, you get to have until 4pm to be as whiney and miserable as you want. At 4pm, we’re kicking in to the part of us that knows I can do this. I need you to be ready for that moment. Up ’til then, have at it.” This “allowance” is liberating. Because you’re giving yourself non-resistance time, some of the stage fright actually has space to diffuse. The stop-time will show you the side of you that can take over and be confident. Slowly, that confident side will grow.
2. Don’t have lots of to-do’s on performance day. Go slow.
This works for me, but I can’t do it at every show because of my travel schedule. If I have a particularly big show, I always allow the day to be about the show and little else.
3. Have lots of to-do’s on the day of a show. Go fast.
Some of my performer friends find that the less they think about a show, the better. So they go through their routines and cram in movies and do some work at Kinko’s. They show up at the venue at the last possible minute. And they love it.
4. Create a ritual.
Your rituals will come to you with time. I like to change guitar strings and play songs for a while. I also say a prayer before I walk onto stage. Even if I’m doing a small show (a few songs at a benefit concert, for instance) I get very clear that I want my ego to step aside. And I remind myself of why I’m doing what I do. Otherwise my scared self will say, “How come you couldn’t have just stayed in PR like a normal person??”
5. Get in the audience.
I don’t do this. But I have friends who love to wander around in the audience and talk with people before they perform. It relaxes them to just hang out, and then jump up on stage.
I perform better when I’ve exercised that day. I get up early and head right to the gym and work out. It gets my emotions in a better place. I’m convinced that artists and creative types need to exercise regularly.
7. Get to the venue early in the day.
One of my favorite things about touring with the ballet company was that on the day of a performance, the company arrived at the theatre at noon. The dancers had to rehearse and take a class. The crew had to set the stage. And I got to be in “theatre mode.” Yes, I got nervous. But I felt like I “knew” the place by the time I got on stage. I used the time to just be in the theatre and feel the energy. This is why I love performing at theatres — they just expect that you’ll get there early in the day.
8. Feign confidence.
Ask yourself what it would feel like if you simply just freakin’ ROCKED? (Say that like one of those annoying radio guys from the 80’s… “101.5. Turn it up and RIP THE KNOB OFF!!”) Seriously, what would it feel like if you knew that? Just find that feeling of deep confidence that’s in there. It’s not a cocky thing. It’s about knowing that you ROCK. Get on stage with that confidence. (Sometimes this really doesn’t work. Sometimes you simply don’t rock. So use this one with caution!)
9. Perform from the fear.
You’ll have to adapt this one to work for your own situation. Some nights I don’t have the strong confident thing going. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’m irreversibly scared. So, I’ll start the performance from a softer place. It’s tempting to fight the anxiety and try to figure out ways to blast through it. The only problem with “figuring out” is that performing is about interacting with the audience. You can’t approach it from your head. So, if you’re freaked and you feel like you don’t have a handle on it, find the fear and begin softly. I’ll often start with a soft little song. I won’t try to have great stage banter at first. I won’t try to be funny. (Because in certain moments – it becomes about the “trying” and not about the “funny.”) What often happens is that I slowly ease my way into a confident place. Then I can find the energy I need to carry the rest of the show.
Anyone else who speaks or reads their poetry or teaches, please add your thoughts here. I’m sure there are great ideas out there…