If you have ever been anxious or scared when you step onto a stage, you are not alone. Performance anxiety destroys the careers of many gifted and hard-working singers. In some cases, it not only takes their careers, but their lives, too.
Here are the four main causes of stage fright and seven practical solutions.
- Not Enough Rehearsals
When opera singers begin their careers, they are often cast in lower budget local productions and concerts with only a handful of performances – as few as one. Under rehearsal often happens for these short run performances.Low budgets and few performances result in fewer rehearsals. Even when there are a lot of rehearsals, they are frequently disorganized and less productive. Performing is a very kinesthetic process and remembering our lines is not just a mental process. Muscle memory is essential in recalling what to say and where to be on stage. This comes from proper rehearsals.
- Learning a New Skill
It takes time to change behavior effectively, including learning a new skill or technique. Maybe you’re trying a new way to approach coloratura passages, or maybe it’s integrating more acting intention into your singing, or maybe it’s how you approach low notes, high notes or your passaggio. Maybe you’ve completely changed fachs. These are all times to slow down and allow yourself time to integrate the new approach.
- Negative Comparisons
Comparisons always bring us down. Even comparisons that build us up are a problem, because comparisons are fueled by ego attachment to outcome, competition and putting others down, instead of lifting them and, by extension, ourselves up.
- Misinterpreting your Natural Adrenaline as Fear
Even though you are well-rehearsed, learned the skills and are not comparing yourself to anyone else, some degree of anxiety is a completely natural physiological response to stress. As one director of a mental health program stated, “We need to normalize normal anxiety.” The challenge is to develop processing skills to use the natural adrenaline to enhance our performances.
7 Steps for conquering your performance anxiety.
- Rehearse in Performance Mode
Early in the rehearsal process give your all to every rehearsal as though it is a performance. Your body/mind remembers the difference between a low energy, low commitment rehearsal and a fully alive, fully charged rehearsal. Practicing in performance mode makes it easier to transition to the actual performance.
- Create an Additional Private Rehearsal Plan
If you don’t have the luxury of an extended rehearsal period, create one for yourself. Create a personal home rehearsal plan. Calculate the number of days before your performance and then actually schedule personal rehearsals, increasing the number and intensity of practice sessions the closer you get to the actual date of the performance.Set up your living room or bedroom with stand in props as though it were the stage. Decide where the audience will be and then move around the space as though it were an actual rehearsal or performance. Keep in mind costars’ movements. Memorize their lines or record them on your phone so you can pretend they are there.
- Simulate the Actual Performance
Set up an audience in your home. This is especially good for solos. Invite friends and family for mini performances. Limit your list to just fully supportive guests. Give them directions on what you would like them to do. Do you want actual feedback, if so what kind? Or would you prefer they simply congratulate you and say something positive.Don’t let this be a one off. Do it several times. And when there are no people around or the scene is too involved with other actors, then use your stuffed animals or other inanimate objects as stand-ins.
- Practice with Distractions
You can go even farther with this kind of home practice by setting up distractions like trainers use in dog training. Sometimes a trainer rolls a ball in front of a dog that’s not supposed to move. You can ask a friend to make distracting noises or you can set timers to go off randomly while you are practicing. The goal is to keep going and not let it bother you. You’re building performance muscle-memory.
- Meditate and Breathe Deeply
Develop a practice of meditation and breath work. Write it down. Meditate and breathe deeply at a regular time every day. It’s the “what if” scenarios in our mind that turn a natural stress response into terror. Then add this practice to your rehearsal process. Consider meditating in your car right before an audition and maintain an awareness of your breath even while you’re performing, especially if you notice any anxiety starting to creep in.
- Reframe your Definition of Anxiety
Reframe the feeling of anxiety as positive adrenaline needed to power your performance. One of the reasons most actors and singers experience some degree of stage fright is that it’s a very natural physical response to stress. Even though we rationally know we’re not going to die, the body still responds with fight or flight!Remind yourself that you can use the adrenaline to fuel your performance. Think of the butterflies in your stomach as adrenaline and thank them for showing up. Be grateful for the extra energy available to you.
- Create Pre and Post Performance Rituals
Rituals help the body/mind relax and feel safe. The more consistent you are with your rituals the more they will influence your body to feel safe under the perceived danger of getting on stage. Every successful performer, including virtually every professional athlete develops rituals for both before and after each practice/rehearsal, before and after each performance and most importantly for after any big run of performances. It’s so easy to be consumed by sadness when a show closes.Rituals that involve a celebration for what you’ve just accomplished and what you are planning next can be alleviae post show depression. Relish all victories no matter how small.Rituals can be as simple as a fresh cup of warm tea with honey in your thermos at the theater to a vigorous hike the morning after a run of shows completes.
At the root of our Stage Fright is usually a false belief that we are somehow not good enough. And while working on your mindset is essential to a long and fruitful singing career, sometimes embracing practical solutions like these 7 strategies will give you the boost in confidence you need to enter “the mouth of the wolf.” In bocca al lupo!