Some say the stress level an actor experiences on opening night is about the same as the stress a jet fighter pilot feels during combat. Whether that’s true or not, you’ll probably agree that being an actor can feel like you’ve got a lot on the line. Some research says that public speaking —which is the cousin of acting— is second on the list of things people are afraid of. The fear of death isn’t even on many of the lists, which means that many people would rather die than do what actors do on a regular basis!
So, how do you engage your fear? The typical response is to try not to feel afraid. This usually makes it worse because of the increased conflict with your own being. The key with fear is how you "frame" it, i.e. what meaning you put on fear. If you think of fear as "bad" and something that will cause you failure, then it will be so. If, on the other hand, you see fear as something that can be a source of creative juice, focus, and energy, then it becomes your friend and you can work with it.
Steven Spielberg was recently asked about how he deals with his fear, especially in relation to the pressures of making a movie like "Lincoln," which came with huge expectations. He shared with Oprah Winfrey that he felt insecure every day on set, and added, "I don’t work well when I'm fearless. I'm not as good a filmmaker if I know what I'm doing every step of the way. When I don't have all my comfort foods with me then I get really, really—and it's a good thing for me— insecure, and that insecurity opens me up to any possibility. I need to wake up in the morning and get to the set and feel that I have an upset stomach…. then I'm more able to rescue myself by taking risks and doing things I didn't know I was going to do when I woke up that morning."
Spielberg has made friends with his fear. Rather than fight it and see it as his enemy, he has found a way to frame it so it actually works for him.
When you feel what you call "fear," remember that it’s simply a feeling, nothing more. And you can interpret that feeling as the reason for the demise of your upcoming performances, or as a source of your ever-expanding creativity. Really, you have the ability to interpret its purpose any way you wish. So take a lesson from Spielberg and take that pounding heart, upset stomach, shallow breath, and dripping sweat as a sign that you’re about to step off the known into a creative space you never imagined before. One that takes you right into the middle of your passion, your purpose, and your power!
Justina Vail is a life coach, master NLP practitioner, hypnotherapist, speaker, award-winning author, and award-winning actor. She is owner of Actors Life Coaching and author of the award-winning new book "How to be a Happy Actor in a Challenging Business: A Guide to Thriving Through it All." For info about her teleseminars, workshops, and private coaching packages go to www.actorslifecoaching.com.