I was hanging out with a friend last weekend and we were at a big party. It was in a place with really high ceilings that were perfect for a juggler, which my friend is. In fact, I could go so far as to say that he is one of the best jugglers I know, but he is not a professional entertainer. He just does it for fun. At this party, people were dancing and doing various types of performance art all over the place.
My friend had with him some very special juggling balls that would light up and change colors. They looked really amazing when they were flying through the air. In short, they were the perfect visual addition to a party like this. The problem was, this friend of mine felt that it might be awkward to just start juggling in the middle of the room. It took him more than an hour to finally decide to bring them out, and then when he did, it was only for a little while. I was there and it looked very cool.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The way he was feeling was totally normal. There are a lot of times that I feel afraid to take the risk of standing out in public, or taking a particular risk on stage, or introducing myself to a group of people. We all get that way from time to time. It is important to understand that and to learn how to manage those feelings if we are going to be successful at being creative and become happy and comfortable with who we are.
Later that night another friend who is a professional entertainer with a great deal of stage time, told me that they were afraid to play the ukulele in front of an audience. And they are amazing on a uke. It’s all about levels of comfort and willingness to take risks. As far as dealing with stage fright, there are a few things that you ought to know:
- Everyone experiences it.
- It’s normal and healthy.
- It can be useful.
- There are techniques to manage it.
- The feared consequences are usually exaggerated and unlikely.
The only people that I know who tell me that they never experience stage fright are not very good entertainers. Period. All of the good performers care enough about their work to feel nervous about it from time to time. I get nervous before an act that has a new component to it. If the props are new or the venue is different in some significant way I have a little trepidation right before I enter the stage.
Stage fright is a normal part of what every variety artist experiences. If you are feeling a bit of it right before a show, don’t get caught in a feed-back loop about feeling nervous about your nervousness. That will only compound things and make it worse. Just acknowledge how you feel and move on.
The jolt of extra energy that you could get from stage fright can be used to fuel your charisma. The other use for feeling nervous is to be aware of what elements about the performance are making you nervous. This way you can find the things in your act that may need a little more work or polish. It could be that you simply need to organize your prop box or table better, so that you can effortlessly lay your hands on your props as you need them.
There are a lot of ways to deal with the stress of pre-show jitters. It helps to have something to do to keep your mind busy up until you need to step on the stage. Some performers even keep a book with them so that they can read after they have finished preparing for the show.
Having a pre-show routine can go a long way to helping you to feel comfortable and secure before a show. I like to always set up in the same order because that way the environment can feel as ‘normal’ and routine as possible. If you have a complicated set up or a lot of props, you might even want to have a check list that you look over so that you can feel comfort from the fact that you know that you are all set and ready to go.
Usually, what we are afraid of is only in our minds and very unlikely to actually occur. First of all, unless the laws of physics have changed, no one can know the future. Therefore, there is simply no way we can know how the audience will respond. Secondly, most audiences are both willing and eager to suspend their disbelief. They want to support your efforts and they want to have a good time. As long as you don’t break the spell of the world that you create by being apologetic, it is unlikely that they will turn against you.
Often variety performers are afraid that the audience will laugh at them and turn away or mock them. At a root level performers are afraid of being unloved and invalidated. Just like back in junior high school, there is a feeling that your friends might not be loyal to you because of your loss in social status due to a poor performance. But this stuff is so extremely unlikely to happen that it is almost kind of ridiculous when you look right at it.
It can be helpful to think not only of what the benefits of taking the risk are if you take it, and to also think about what you will loose if you do not take the risk. Remember, once you want to do something, you can decide to do it. Then you can evaluate the loss of not doing it.
“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself,” Charlie Chaplin.
If you are going to work creatively, you will have to understand that the very process of creativity involves taking risks all along the way. If you are like me, then you will always be trying new things and trying to improve what you do by making little improvements along the way. Instead of trying to eliminate stage fright from your life, you should embrace it. You can learn to manage it well, and get used to it so that it won’t feel too bad.
Brad Weston is a writer, juggler, and feelings manager from way back. For more information about him and his work check out his website at http://www.bradweston.com
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