Never be afraid of nerves!
So you are waiting in the wings for your name and act to be announced… Nervous? Good, that’s a good start! Nerves come from the basic human ‘fight or flight’ mode. It’s a concentration of energy to help you in a moment of ‘stress’ and a build up to help you either run or stay and fight. Nerves make you super-powered (which is why you often feel drained when you come off stage if you have given it your all) as it is your body pushing all the energy it has into the next few moments. Embrace your nerves, they are a good thing, and besides feeling nervous shows you care about your act, as if you were to feel nothing, you would probably hit the stage and just go through the motions… We don’t want that!
A lot of performers are afraid of feeling nervous, but for many others, feeling that buzz before you hit the stage is greater than any artificial high and is what keeps you alive (yes, sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it? haha!) But keeping the nerves in check can sometimes be a problem, especially for new performers, so here’s five things you can do to help you through that moment before you hit the stage…
1. Get into character! Remember it is not you who is going to hit the stage but a fabulous version of yourself (or character that you are portraying). Tell yourself some key things about your character to help you get into the mindset (“big, bold, fantastic! Loves the audience! Smile! Eyes!” this is one performer’s mantra, Lilly Laudanum repeats this before her Queen Victoria act – “disgusting, outrageous, how DARE they”) – and repeat over a few times, trying to capture the meaning of those words.
2. If your mouth goes dry, chew a Starburst or any other chewy sweet that can be swallowed… This will release moisture in your mouth and swallowing it before you hit the stage looks more professional than chewing gum and chewing your way through an act.
3. Invent three positions of readiness for yourself – eg postition 1, stand with feet parallel; position 2, head up, back straight, arms stretched right to the finger tips; position 3 breath in and out.
4. Have a pre-stage ritual so that you do this before you go up to the stage. For many performers it is checking costume pieces, for others it is a few stretches (you should always do a warm up, btw), and others have something else entirely that they do, like brushing their teeth or spraying some of their favourite perfume (away from the other performers of course, they might not want to get a lung full of eau de performance!). This is much better than applying and applying loads more make-up with nervousness or snapping at other performers.
5. Breath in deeply and then breathe out just before you walk on stage. It’s so important to breathe out as you walk on stage to make sure you are not holding any extra tension in your body and you will relax into what you are about to do. You can also do this with your muscles – really tense everything up – including your face, then let go and relax… you will know that your body is relaxed enough now to perform. You should not be holding any tension as you arrive on stage but it is so easy to without realising.
Help – my mind has gone blank, I’ve totally forgotten my routine!
Please do not worry – the more you worry, the more stress endorphines will flood your body! Try any of the techniques above and trust yourself that when you hear the music, because you have rehearsed your act so many times, the moves will be ingrained in muscle memory. If you are really worried about forgetting something, have a ‘safety’ mov, like a shimmy or a wiggle (etc) anything you like that you can do in an act to give yourself some thinking time.
I’m so bloody nervous I need a drink!
No, you don’t need to reach for the booze! Alcohol might numb the senses but no one in the audience wants to pay to see a glass-eyed performer tottering through their routine, looking at them in ‘soft focus’. Besides if you or the producer have PLI any drop of alcohol will void insurance and if anything goes wrong you could be in line for a hefty payout.
I am shaking with nerves / I have given myself a headache with nerves!
Make sure you stay properly hydrated. When you are nervous it is easy to forget to drink water but this is exactly the time when you need water! Your body is running on reserves and it is easy for it to run out. Drink more than you would usually. Also try some stretching and position of readiness techniques to calm any shaking hands.
I have just been sick in my mouth…
If you feel like you are going to be sick, deep breathing is a great way to take your mind off this. Try and find a quiet place to calm yourself by deep breathing, focussing on your feet, then your legs, then your knees, thighs, pelvis, (etc, moving up the body and to the finger tips). This is a yoga meditational technique to focus the mind and relax the body.
The main thing is to remember to play – to have fun! Try and turn the nerves into excitement in your mind and tell yourself you are really looking forward to this moment, as performing should be fun, right? Not a traumatic experience that you need counselling to recover from every time!