Public fear, or stage fright, can be a big roadblock if you want to become an actor. If your stage fear is so strong that your voice shakes at auditions, or if you feel sick or frozen backstage before a performance, read on for ways to conquer your fear of speaking and turn debilitating public fear into constructive energy you can use.
1) Embrace It
If you’ve struggled for some time with stage fright ruining your acting auditions and hiding your true talent, you may wonder if you’re meant to be an actor, but if you think about it, the very fact that you feel so scared shows that you feel things deeply and that you have a big imagination, two very important qualities for performing artists!
So as you go through this, remember that public fear has nothing to do with whether or not you are a good actor. It’s just an obstacle to overcome, a challenge you share with some of the most talented performers out there. Renowned actor Laurence Olivier, for example, chronically suffered from stage fright. Actually, many accomplished artists consider stage fright a part of their magic formula for success.
Think of that the next time you audition, and embrace how you feel. So your voice is still a little shaky when you walk in the audition room? It’s just a sign of your rich emotional life. So you’re still figuring out how to channel it, big deal. Accept it as a great gift that will make you a better actor in the long run. By embracing your public fear, you’ll stop judging yourself so much. You’ll be less self-conscious when you perform your monologue.
2) Fight Stage Fear with Stage Time
Everyone feels scared doing something new, especially if that something new is performing in front of hundreds of people.
Sometimes, public fear in performers is just due to a lack of practice or experience. If you want to become an actor, you need to put in your hours in front of an audience and audition as much as you can. That’s why it’s so important to pick an acting school that offers plenty of performance opportunities in front of real audiences.
To become an actor, you need to act. If you seize every opportunity to audition and be on stage, your stage fright will diminish as performing becomes second nature.
3) Techniques to Fight Stage Fright
When you experience stage fear, whether it is backstage or during an audition, try these different techniques, noting what works for you:
- Deep breathing
Stage fright makes our breath shallow and fast and can get us to hyperventilate. Try slowing your breath down, feeling your belly expand as you take air in and contract as you exhale. Take it slow. Don’t force it or overdo it. Breathing deeply relaxes you and connects you to your body, helping you get centered.
Imagine the audience is filled with one person who you feel completely comfortable with, someone who is non-judgmental and supportive. This technique used by Shirley MacLaine helps combat our public fear of an unfriendly audience. If you think about it, most audiences go to the theater to be entertained. They are ready to suspend disbelief and want to like you. They are friendly. And so are most casting directors. They want you to get the job. That means they filled the role and their work is over.
- Channel the energy
See if you can put the energy from your stage fright into your acting preparation work or character. For example, you can ask as your character, “why am I feeling so nervous”? Maybe you can find a reason in the given circumstances of the play or your objective. That will give you a starting point to focus on.
The Stanislavski acting technique recommends actors concentrate on something very small at first and then expand it, so they can feel solitude in public and not become self conscious.Method acting uses something known as the private moment exercise to train the actor to feel private in public.
The techniques above, coupled with practice, can work if your public fear is not too strong. But with actors who get very nervous, finding a way to control stage fright while it is happening can just be too hard.
4) Practice Mindfulness
As mentioned in this post, no one would expect you to run a marathon without training every day for months first. Well, the same thing applies to working on stage fright. The best way to really deal with public fear is to practice being in the moment every day and understanding your thoughts, so that when panic hits, you have the resources not let it overwhelm you.
What I find to be the most helpful as a long term solution to stage fright is practicing daily mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation, but it is different from the idea many of us have of meditation because you are not trying to push away your thoughts or think of nothing. On the contrary. You are trying to be fully in the moment, fully awake, fully present… really what good acting is all about!
When we feel public fear, we’re not really in the moment. Our minds are running the show. We are controlled by thoughts of all the bad things that could happen in the future: we could forget our lines, we could be booed off stage, we could die (yes, that’s what a big imagination does!), etc.
The more we recognize these thoughts as just thoughts, the less power they have over us. Mindfulness practice helps us do just that – recognize our thoughts for what they are.
Just try sitting with your eyes closed and concentrating on your breath naturally going in and out.
When a thought comes, notice it and learn from it, without holding on to it.
It’s that simple to begin with, but to really get a good grasp of what mindfulness is and how to practice it, get a book to guide you, like the bestselling quick read Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Dealing with public fear is just one of the small benefits you’ll get out of mindfulness. This type of meditation is really great for actors on many levels.
You can search for this book and other books on mindfulness in the box below:
Once you’ve practiced mindfulness on a regular basis, you may start seeing changes in how you experience public fear.
- You’ll be able to be more in the moment when you are on stage or getting ready to go on stage. This will help you stay focused on the here and now rather than caught up in thoughts of all the worse things that could happen.
- When you go to auditions, you’ll be able to accept that wherever you are in the preparation process, “this is it”. A lot of stage fright comes from not feeling prepared. Once you accept where you’re at, fear of speaking the wrong thing or performing the wrong way will loosen its grip on you.
- Understanding your thoughts better will also help you not project your fears so much. For example, when you walk into an audition, your first thought may have been: “They don’t think I’m good enough for the play” or “they are judging me negatively”. Once you recognize these thoughts as just thoughts that have nothing to do with what the casting director is really thinking, they lose much of their power. Even when you do audition for someone negative who had a bad day, you’ll be able to recognize their mood has nothing to do with you.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Will you ever get rid of public fear entirely?
But you don’t need to. All you need to become an actor is to channel it so your stage fear and fear of speaking work for you, helping you focus and providing the extra adrenaline to make your characters larger than life.