If you’re an actor who regularly spends time looking for that next gig, chances are you’ve experienced the shaking, tightening chest, short breath, tingling, sweating sensations, and catastrophic thoughts about how a casting director will never call you in again after cracking during an audition. Perhaps you’ve even responded to this by avoiding auditions, over- or under-preparing, or even apologizing for your performance.
If this sounds familiar, welcome to the unpleasant combination of sensations, thoughts, and actions that make up anxiety! After years of helping people who suffer from this debilitating condition, I was fortunate enough to conduct research on a treatment for audition anxiety in professional performers. It was for a study that was part of my dissertation project at Hofstra University for my PhD in clinical psychology. Even though it may not be possible to actively participate in the research for it now, there are several takeaways that might help in managing it.
1. Stop fighting it.
The number one thing you probably want when you experience anxiety is to get rid of it immediately. The thing is, fighting the anxiety doesn’t usually work. Imagine that very sensitive anxiety sensors have been attached to your body before entering the audition room and you are told that if any anxiety at all is detected, a trap door will open and you will plummet to your doom. How long do you think you will be standing there before that trap door opens? If you’re like most people, creating the imperative that anxiety must go away only creates more of it. Instead, try to accept your anxiety. It’s there for the moment. Make some space for it. This could free you up to place your attention where you probably want it: staying in the moment during your audition.
2. Remember that anxiety isn’t dangerous.
Your interpretation of the sensations of anxiety is very important to your experience. Do you have the same aversion to a racing heart or shortness of breath when you’re running as you do when you’re feeling anxious? Your body responds similarly to fear and running, working to increase the flow of oxygen to your muscles, readying your body to respond quickly. While the sensations of anxiety may be unpleasant, they are not harmful or dangerous. Many of the performers in the study were both surprised and relieved when they realized that they experienced the same physical responses as when they were anxious in less threatening contexts, too. The next time anxiety comes on, try being mindful of the fact that the physiological symptoms you’re experiencing are totally normal.
3. Practice, practice, practice—but not how you’d think.
You might tend to respond to audition anxiety by either over-preparing or under-preparing. Neither of these are ideal. Instead, try practicing your material when anxiety is present. During our study, the performers predicted that they would be unable to perform while experiencing anxiety, but when they put this to the test, they found they auditioned well while experiencing anxiety symptoms.
4. Kick self-defeating habits to the curb.
When your sole focus is to feel “safe,” “confident,” or “calm” during an audition, you might respond by doing things that are ultimately self-defeating. Most of the real audition “problems” that the performers in the study experienced were a result of what they did to temporarily reduce anxiety. Not stretching before a dance call because you’re “not a dancer,” apologizing in the room for your performance, not properly preparing material with a coach, or avoiding auditions altogether are all examples of these self-defeating behaviors. The real question is, what are you giving up in order to NOT experience anxiety? Is it worth it? Rather than doing what your anxiety “tells” you to, make a decision based on your goals. It might be scary to audition with the song you carefully prepared after you’ve heard someone else at the audition sing it, but it could still be your best choice.
5. Stop feeling alone—because you’re not!
Audition and performance anxiety can happen to performers of all talent, skill, and experience levels. (In 2018, for instance, star of Broadway’s “Frozen” Patti Murin bravely shared her struggles with anxiety.) There was a lot of interest in participating in our study, which really shows that there are a lot of people in the industry who are feeling anxious. The performers in the study ranged from newcomers to AEA members with major national touring and Off-Broadway credits.
6. Find a qualified professional.
If you are struggling with performance or audition anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek help. Work with professionals who use gold-standard anxiety treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy. Work with coaches and industry professionals who will show sensitivity, challenging you to experience your anxiety rather than encouraging you to avoid it.
Ready to put these tips to the test? Apply to casting calls on Backstage!
The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.