3 Ways to Deal With Performance Anxiety
First off, I fully acknowledge that we are all different and that what works for some won’t work for others. You’ll need to experiment to find out what works for you.
With that said, however, simply put: Until you have the right attitude, career elements, and experience in place, it’s very possible that you will have performance anxiety and/or get nervous before and during auditions and performances. Even then, you still may experience performance anxiety and nervousness whenever the stakes feel higher than normal, no matter the stage of your career.
I think of performance anxiety as an ongoing fear or unease relating to the audition or performance process, whereas I think of nervousness as the more immediate experience right before performance.
When we get nervous before and in an audition, it feels like we’re not in control of our mind and body. We can’t think straight. It’s the effect of the body’s way of dealing with a perceived threat. The acting opportunity has triggered our fight or flight response. Intellectually, we know we’re not in any physical danger, but many of us have, unfortunately and inadvisably, tied our hopes, dreams, self-worth, identity, reputation, the promises we made to ourselves, and the expectations of others to the outcome of an audition.
The emotional danger we’ve put ourselves in can be very real and emotional damage can often be worse than physical. Your body knows how to heal wounds, but do you know how to heal your own heart? Just look up the effects of cortisol on the body, one of the hormones released by the body in response to stress. It can affect vision, memory, and a bunch of others bodily functions you probably want in working order when acting….
If you’re struggling to keep your nerves in check during auditions, here are three tips to help curb them:
1. Competence makes you confident. The biggest factor contributing to most actors’ stress and anxiety that leads to nervousness, understandably, is that they don’t know what they are doing. Acting is a skill that takes time and dedication to master. And you need to be at least somewhat masterful to book network TV shows and studio feature films on a consistent basis.
Training and becoming skilled makes you competent, which in turn makes you confident, effortlessly. Any activity that requires practice is initially daunting, but once you become so experienced and skilled in it, the very idea of becoming nervous becomes absurd.
2. Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.Let’s say that you are skilled and experienced. Now it comes down to your acting process—how you prepare your work ahead of the audition. Many actors have no clear process at all, or have weird or incomplete ones that they learned from well-meaning but clueless teachers that unfortunately taught them bad habits.
One of these fallacies is the idea of being “over-rehearsed.” Of course you can over-work material in a day. Depending on how many pages you’ve been given, 2–4 hours is usually enough time to fully prepare. But too many actors have been scared away from giving material the amount of rehearsal that is essential for consistently high-quality work for fear of it being, so called, “over-rehearsed.”
Many actors confuse solid prep and rehearsal with “over-working” their material. It’s also easy to rationalize laziness and poor work ethic by claiming to not want to over-work the material. Regardless, if you under-prepare because you’re afraid of over-working the scene, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel unsure of your ability to deliver in the room.
For more on this topic, check out my three-part series, “12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances.”