There are a few people who leap onto the stage, fearless and natural right from the start. However, most mere mortals suffer from some level of stage fright, whether at the beginning of their performance career or even all the way through it. I have been performing solo and group acts since 1996, and I still get butterflies in my stomache and other symptoms of stage fright when I am preparing to perform a new number that stretches my boundaries. I’ve learned to accept and even enjoy my stage fright for the ways that it can actually enhance a performance when managed properly. Here are some ways that I have learned to manage and even benefit from that could-be paralyzing fear…
Use your posture. Even if you’re shaking in your boots on the inside, there’s no reason to let the audience see it! Stand tall. Lift your chest and suck in your belly, and be sure that your shoulders are relaxed. You will look much more confident if you pay attention to your posture.
- Smile, even if it kills you! A lot of new performers think that a serious, sultry expression comes across as sexy onstage. While it can for more experienced performers, it is much harder to project sexiness with a serious expression, and many new performers wind up accidentally looking either blank faced (the lights are on, but nobody’s home!) or terrified. It is much easier to look comfortable even if you’re scared with a smile on your face. Also, there have been studies that show that smiling can actually make you feel better – so trick yourself into feeling more comfortable by smiling. Another big reason to smile on stage is that we humans automatically smile back when someone smiles at us. How much more fun is it to perform for a smiling audience than for a wall of blank faces?
- Don’t forget to breathe! When people get scared, their breathing tends to speed up, which adds to the “fight or flight” feelings of anxiety. So take a minute to slow down your breathing. Take a few deep breaths. You may be surprised by how calming this can be. One breathing exercise that I often do before a performance is to focus on the feeling of anxiety, those naughty little butterflies fluttering in my stomache, and slowly inhale while imagining I am breathing that feeling up my body, past my heart, up the back of my head and send it shooting through the top of my head. Sounds corny, I know, but it really helps me to feel energized and excited rather than so anxious I have to pee… again.
- Get crazy, shake it up, make some noise! Another thing that I do to get my energy up and in a positive place for performing, is I dance around back stage. A few bumps, grinds and shimmies can really get the juices going mentally as well as physically. If you can, make some noise while you’re at it! When the Burlesqueteers were backstage and lined up waiting to go on stage for the Tease-o-rama opening gala, I had everyone do some sassy forward bumps and squeal, shout and laugh. The idea is similar to the noises that martial artists make while punching, breaking boards, etc. Making noise can help release energy through your body and is very powerful.
- Take it slowly. If the idea of getting up on stage all by yourself makes you feel so sick you literally start to turn green, consider starting out performing with a group. This way, you have a built in support system and you’re not going to be up on stage all by yourself. Many of my students start out performing group numbers, and before you know it they’re doing solos, in the spotlight all by themselves. Sometimes it helps to be able to get your feet wet a little bit before jumping right in.
- “Embarrassment Therapy.” Sometimes the best way to deal with stage fright is to go out of your way to make a fool of yourself. Go do karaoke. Take a public speaking class. Do street performance. Try anything that will help you get over your fear of looking foolish, because isn’t that what stage fright is mostly about?
- Just get out there and do it! Remember that everything is the scariest the first time you try it. Your fear often builds up the experience to be a much bigger than it actually is. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just get out there, do your best, don’t worry if it doesn’t go perfectly, and just get the first time over with. And then the second. And the third. Performing really does get easier and easier the more you do it, and once you’ve done it a few times and realize that you won’t actually die, and you probably won’t actually fall on your face, that is when the fun really begins. Then you’re ready to keep pushing at your boundaries a little more and a little more until after a while you are fearless and natural on stage, and no one would believe that you almost peed yourself the first time you were on stage, you were so terrified.