Acting and Stage Fright
by D.L. White
One of the most common questions that gets posed before someone embarks on an acting career is how one can overcome stage fright. The shortest answer is simply to keep getting on stage. Now, that may not sound like much, but as you will see, the power of repetition is not to be missed here. The first thing you have to understand about stage fright, especially when it comes to acting, is the root source of that fear. Very early on in the Meisner school I went to, the acting teacher presented us an acronym for F.E.A.R. that I've hung on to ever since...
Now, fear is a normal part of our operating mechanism...like a steering wheel, it comes with the car, so to speak. It was further pointed out in my acting school that as babies, we have ONE ingrained fear when we show up in the world. That being the fear of loud noises. Everything else is learned behaviour, as in, we pick it up as we go. Some of those fears are legitimate and serve to protect us from harm. The problem only starts manifesting itself when those fears come from irrational places and that's exactly where stage fright comes into play.
Everyone can see the benefit of being fearful of a wild bear. There is a very rational reason to be scared if there's a big ol' bear rearing up in front of you. That bear represents an immediate threat to your physical well being, and you being scared of it is a good thing! However, let's reflect on what 'danger' you will be facing while acting.
Not much going on, is there? The audience isn't very likely to attack you are they? So, what's it all about? The usual worry is embarrassment...'I'm going to look stupid' or 'people won't like me' or some variation on those themes. Or, worse yet, 'I will be wrong.' Our need for acceptance to the group at large has been ingrained in us since we were children. It gets fostered by just about everyone in our lives, and socially speaking, it usually does more good than harm...but, for your acting, it's absolutely terrible! By the way, it's those same fears that con-men and crooks prey on to part you from your money. Who knows, maybe getting over your fear of embarrassment will help you avoid a con someday!
Anway, the first step to overcoming that societal 'barrier' is acceptance. You've probably already accepted that when you are acting you have stage fright, right? That part's easy...now you have to accept that it's irrational. That part's pretty easy too, because you're just admitting the truth. Now the tough part...keep getting on stage and acting. Because you know that your fear is irrational, you now need to take action to overcome it and you need to do this because it is so ingrained in all of us. This is one of the ways that psychologists help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder to overcome their irrational fears. Fear of germs? They'll make you eat out of a clean garbage bag. Fear of flying, they'll put you on a plane, over and over and over again. It becomes increasingly difficult to be afraid of something you do all the time, I assure you.
The biggest thing here is to direct your focus away from the negative feeling of FEAR and instead, focus it on the positive thing, your ACTING. Your acting class is there for precisely that reason! To give you a safe environment to work on your craft. It takes the exact same amount of energy to say to yourself 'I will sit in my seat and not get on stage because I'm scared' as it does to say 'I will get on that stage and act'. You may have to force yourself in the beginning, but sooner or later, you will come to realize that your acting has gotten better and your stage fright has gone away. And, it will, I promise you.
If you're on the fence about even going to an acting school, then I would recommend Toastmasters International. They have clubs all over the world that are highly supportive and a great way to introduce yourself to 'perfoming' in a public medium. Even if you are in acting school, this is an excellent way to build confidence and overcome stage fright, because you have the luxury of taking your 'acting' out of the picture!
Toastmasters even offer a free .pdf booklet with ten tips to effective public speaking, which you can find here: 10 Tips for Successful Public Speaking. It's funny, their 10 tips are very similar to what one should be doing before they go out to perform in a play or show and you'll find the advice is quite relevant (for the most part.)
Now, some of you may have it a little worse. A lot of times fear can be so overwhelming that the thought of getting into any public performance venue is just too much. Unfortunately, in our modern age, there seems to be a preponderance of doctors and pharmaceutical companies that will just about numb you to pieces with all manner of harmful drugs to 'help' you overcome fear. Not saying you shouldn't trust your doctor or anything, but there are, in my opinion, better ways.
Just remember that acting is your passion and your dream! Don't let False Evidence Appearing Real derail you from that dream. You can and WILL overcome your stage fright and it might be a little uncomfortable while you do. Have faith and persevere, EVERYONE that acts professionally has had to overcome this malady! Keep getting up there and it will happen for you too!
About The Author
Eilolin Marhutk has worked as a casting director in Minneapolis Minnesota since 1997, working with such clients as Warner Brothers, Disney, and Fox.
If you want to learn more about how to get started in acting for film or tv, be sure to check out Acting For Film And Television.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, or would just like to share some of your successes, please feel free to drop me a line. I actually answer them.
Best of Luck out there and remember, you can't fail if you don't quit.