Growing up with a love of theatre and performing, I was always aware of how stage fright played an unwelcome yet consistent role in my life. Though I always loved acting, performance anxiety sometimes got the best of me and prevented me from auditioning for shows and opportunities I otherwise would have loved to be a part of. Anxiety did not just mean I was nervous. It took over my entire body and mind- I would either feel sick, breathe heavily, go completely blank in my head and forget everything I had rehearsed, or I would experience a fantastic combination of all three symptoms.
One day when I was about twelve years old, I told my mother about my stage fright. She, rightfully concerned for my wellbeing, told me, “This might not be the right path for you. Maybe you should get involved in another activity at school.”
Looking back, I am not sure how I thought she would reply, but this was definitely not the response I was expecting. Another activity? I loved theatre. There was nothing I loved more than performing and expressing myself on stage. I just needed to find a way to not get extremely anxious while doing it. I decided to do my own research and soon found that stage fright is actually far more common than I had originally thought.
When looking into how to prevent these nervous symptoms, I learned that many talented and successful performers suffer from performance anxiety. Even Meryl Streep, one of the most well-respected and celebrated actors of our time, is very open about her experience with stage fright. Discovering that so many people, especially performers who I respect and look up to, felt the same fears of performing that I did and yet still managed to create beautiful art really inspired me. It reminded me that I was not alone. It also helped me understand that everyone has their own unique methods to best control and manage their individual stage fright.
For me, the best advice I received on to handle stage fright came from my high school drama teacher. I once told her how nervous and fearful I got before going on stage and expected her to share a secret theatrical technique to help calm pre-performance nerves.
Instead, she blatantly asked, “What is it you’re afraid of?”
“…of messing up?” I said hesitantly.
“Okay,” she replied, “you mess up. Then what?”
I thought about it and decided to list all the terrible possible consequences that could happen. “I could trip, mess up the set, miss my mark, forget a line, miss a cue, start performing a completely different scene. The audience could laugh, boo, yell, get up and leave. The play could get a terrible review.”
My teacher looked at me, smiled, and said, “Okay. You’re right. That is the worst that could happen. And you know what? It never will happen. Nothing you do will ever be as bad as what you just described. And even if something somehow is that bad, it will eventually end, and then the worst scenario you could possibly imagine… will be over. And after the worst is over, you will have nothing left to fear.”
I keep this advice in mind whenever I perform. These words made me finally understand that most of my fears, doubts, and anxieties about being on stage were completely made up in my own head and that the chances of any of them actually happening were VERY unlikely. Though I sometimes still get anxious before performances, I just focus on being prepared, staying healthy, doing my best, and having fearless fun. I continue performing because nothing is more rewarding than facing my fears and getting lost in a performance.