First, let's define the problem. What is stage fright? Wikipedia says it's ..."an anxiety, fear or phobia related to performing in front of an audience or camera. " That's the most simplified definition I could find. There are levels of this problem, from mild anxiety (butterflies - actually can be a great thing) to incapacitating conditions that causes show cancellations and stop careers in their tracks.
It's not limited to newbies. Veteran performers are sometimes plagued with it. Carley Simon once passed out in the middle of a concert. George Jones famously anesthetized his with alcohol. Barbara Streisand forgot the lyrics to a song once and then dealt with incapacitating stage fright for three decades.
Fortunately, such severe cases are not the norm. I believe that the sooner one deals with a stage fright issue, the less likely will be the length and severity of the problem.
So... I intend to explore both my own and others' views and strategies to deal with performance anxiety, and try to shed some light on it for all of us.
I am not prone to stage fright. This doesn't mean I'm strong or special, because I have other issues such as no-sense-of-direction which means I can't get around the block without a map, a friend navigator and/or a gps system! Three times I really did have stage fright were the first times I sang on the Grand Old Opry and stood on that ancient circle of wood, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and Farm Aid, where they forgot to introduce me and I had to introduce myself in front of thousands of people. When I played these places again, I didn't experience near the anxiety as the first time.
So... here are the first three remedies I will offer that can help defeat stage fright:
- Don't tell anyone you're nervous unless you know they won't play into it with you. If some well-meaning clueless person asks if you are nervous, (like RIGHT BEFORE YOU GO ONSTAGE, ARGHH!!), dismiss them as quickly and kindly as possible and later, tell them never to ask you that again! And certainly, don't do it to anyone else. Now you know.
- Play as much and in front of as diverse audiences as possible. As vocal coach Jennifer Rutherford says "perform whenever and wherever you can." This can include friends, your pets, your mirror! The more you do it, the more natural it feels to your automatic nervous system. And don't fear the second time will be as hard.
- Deal with stage fright as soon as you know you have it. It's like depression... don't ignore chronic conditions; they may grow out of control.
- Where have you had the worst case(s) of stage fright? What were the circumstances?
- What has worked for you that you could share?
- What has NOT worked for you?
- What are you afraid of - dig down and be specific - that you think brings on your performance anxiety?