by Katie Giffin
After months of preparation, stress, and hard work, when the day of the performance finally arrives, it is a terrifying mixture of crushing anxiety and overwhelming excitement. It is the culmination of all the effort put forth to create a piece of art. It is the showcase of all the late nights, the stress, and the lack of sleep. However, it is also an invitation for friends, family, and whoever else is there, to submit their opinion, good or bad, on something you have poured your heart into. It is one of the most highly vulnerable experiences, and for this reason, performances can be both amazing and gut-wrenching. So how do you deal with the pre-show nerves? Or the shaking while you’re on stage? Or just the overwhelming sensation that there are newly hatched baby pterodactyls in your stomach clawing at your stomach lining crying out for freedom? Here are some tips you can use to help ensure that your show is everything you’ve worked for it to be without feeling the need to keel over with nerves beforehand.
Take deep breaths.
As obvious as this sounds, taking deep breaths is one of the single most helpful things you can do before a show. Think of breathing deep down in your stomach, pushing your abdominal muscles to the floor. This will force the tension built up in your core to release and some of the butterflies will fly away–at least for a little while. This also helps to calm the mind, as you’re focusing on your breathing and not everything that could possibly go wrong on stage.
Face your nerves.
Instead of trying to fill your head with anything else but the looming show, try to identify what exactly is making you nervous. Is it because of certain people in the audience? Is it because you are unprepared? Are you afraid you’ll forget something? Once you can identify why you are nervous, you can start to rationalize those fears. For example, perhaps you are nervous because your family is in the audience and you don’t want to mess up in front of them. However, if you stop and consider this you’ll realize that your family is probably your biggest fan (and if not, then who cares what they think?), so they’re not going to laugh at you or be upset if you mess up. They are there to support you. Try and find the root of what stresses you out, and even if you don’t feel more confident, at the very least, you’ll know more about yourself.
Take time to focus in before the show.
This step is vitally important but it is important to note that this looks different for every person. For some people, it means running around backstage and causing shenanigans. For some it means a quiet atmosphere that is calming and peaceful. For others, it is talking with friends and simply relaxing. For me, I take a million years to do my make up and I do it in complete silence before I’m surrounded by people. This allows me to focus, adjust my mindset, and think through everything that makes me anxious. Once I have my full face on, I’m considerably less stressed than when I began.
Regardless of what type of focusing in you need to do, make this a priority. It can make a world of difference on what happens when the lights come up.
It’s not all on you.
For some people, the idea that the whole production doesn’t rest on their shoulders is an easy concept to grasp, but for others, it’s not as simple as saying “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Although it is not easy to let go of all the worry for other people — especially when their success (or lack thereof) affects you — once you do, a giant weight of pressure is lifted off of you. Remember that your job is to focus on you. That is your sole responsibility. If the lights stop working, or the mics cut out, or someone forgets their lines, or someone can’t play their part, that is a them problem and it’s not going to reflect poorly on you. As long as you know your stuff, you have nothing to worry about. Focus on yourself and trust that everything else will fall into place.
Believe in yourself.
Yes, I know. This is cliché and unoriginal but that doesn’t make it any less true. The fact is, once the curtain opens and the lights go up, all the advice you’ve been given, all the opinions others have of you, all the things you’ve been told to do, they all mean nothing. The truth is, once that curtain opens, you’re the one on the stage. Everything you do is now your decision to make and it is your story to tell. At the end of it all, you have to be satisfied with what you gave to the audience and if that isn’t exactly what your director or lessons instructor told you to do, then so be it. It is your stage and your story. You’ve poured your heart and soul into what you are performing, and whatever the audience sees should be the most honest expression of what you have to say. Once you focus on that, the pressure to please other people fades (somewhat) and the show becomes your show.