Performance Anxiety + How to Deal With It

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Nervous energy can manifest itself in a variety of different ways. Whether it’s dry mouth, a nervous twitch, shaky knees, the slightly-higher-than-normal voice, involuntarily hunched shoulders, we’re all susceptible and it’s impossible to predict if or when those butterflies will kick in.

Here’s a great analogy several teachers have shared with me over the years: imagine a spotlight hanging above you. That spotlight represents what you’re aware of at any given moment. If the spotlight is on you, then you’re in a state of self-awareness. If the spotlight is shining on someone or something else, that means your awareness is on that person or thing. So if 100% of your spotlight is on someone else, how much is on you

Zero, right? And therein lies the problem. You’re in the moment, hopefully, you’re feeling great, your preparation is kicking in. So far so good. But suddenly your voice cracks or you make a mistake in the text or your knee trembles. You immediately become self-conscious. All those negative thoughts come flooding back in and the spotlight has turned its gaze in your direction.

Terrifying, right?

Whatever methodology or approach you take to your work, this is something all performers can all relate to, so here are some ideas that can help us in these situations.

1. Objective
Most acting coaches and theorists have the idea of objective at the center of their approach because it’s crucial to Stanislavski’s system—and it works. Whatever your take on objective, nothing is more helpful in dealing with nerves than focusing on the other person in the scene and actively trying to get what you want or need from that him or her. If you’re in the zone, it’s because your awareness is completely tied up in achieving that objective, whether conscious or not.

2. Listening
In order to listen, our awareness and focus must be on the other person. If you find this concept hard to understand, build on the inquisitive parts of who you are. Stop posting selfies and instead, observe what’s around you. Read, people watch, ask a lot of questions. Listening will get easier if do it more.

READ: 1 Foolproof Way to Get Rid of Audition Nerves

3. Endowment
Think about who’s on top in any scene. Who holds the power? When do they hold the power? How are they maintaining or losing that status? If you consider this in your preparation, it will help you become much more aware of the other person.

4. Environment
Use your time in the waiting room before the audition to observe shapes, colors, sounds, and texture. Remember that the other actors around you are also prepping, so stay contained but do keep your focus out as opposed to in your head in the lead up to the audition. Focusing on anything other than yourself and your thoughts has helped me immensely in auditions.

5. Presence
Another waiting room exercise that can help is to concentrate on all of your senses. In your head, list the things you can hear, smell, see, feel, and taste while you sit. The sound in the room, the leather on the chairs, the old film canisters on the shelf, the glossy magazines, the mint you had in the elevator that’s still lingering on your tongue. Though this may sound like a distraction from the task at hand, really focusing on these things will actually help to put you in the right headspace without overthinking the audition.

If you can commit to one or all of these concepts and find ways to incorporate them into your audition prep, auditions will get easier and better. Good luck!

Originally from New Zealand, Jamie is an actor, director, and acting coach. As an actor, his TV and film credits include “Underbelly Land of the Long Green Cloud,” “Crushed,” “Westside,” “Anzac Girls,” and much more. Currently a member of the faculty at Theatre of Arts in Hollywood, Jamie has also coached and directed for Actors Centre Australia, NIDA, Griffin Theatre Company, North Shore Drama, Ensemble Theatre and CCMT. Jamie trained at NIDA and has privately coached many actors in acting, audition prep, text analysis, showreel production, new media writing, on-camera, and voiceover. For more information about Jamie, visit his website: www.jamieirvineactor.com.

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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Jamie Irvine
Originally from New Zealand, Jamie is an actor, director, and acting coach. Currently a member of the faculty at Theatre of Arts in Hollywood, Jamie has also coached and directed for Actors Centre Australia, NIDA, Griffin Theatre Company, North Shore Drama, Ensemble Theatre and CCMT.
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