How to manage stage fright and befriend the beast
We all know the saying when you're nervous it shows that you care, now I believe this to be true and very normal because if something means a lot to us or we're about to do a new thing for the first time - it's exposing and vulnerable. However we don't want that nervousness to take us away from being present and expressing ourselves fully on stage, because after all, being on stage should be a really fun and enjoyable experience.
Other words for jitters may be nervousness, butterflies or anxiety and universally these feelings can be described as uncomfortable and unsettling. However, because we all experience it, it enables us to feel direct empathy for others, showing us the humanity in us all.
I still get nervous and butterflies, but as someone who has been on stage since I was two years old, I’ve learnt techniques along the way that help self regulate my nervous system and keep my adrenalin stabilised. I hope that these tricks can be of use to you so that you can feel your most wonderful self infront on an audience.
Image by Goddess Photography
Tip #1 - Pre-Show Preperation
Whether it's your first time on stage or you’re about to debut a new Burlesque act, there are a few things we can do to feel prepared as much as possible before going in front of an audience. The more prep we do, the more troubleshooting can occur, making us feel more confident with what we have to bring to the table.
It's important to rehearse as much as possible, in your costume and shoes. The more you practise in your full get up, the more the routine will settle into your body. This will then free up more space in your mind, thinking less about what comes next as the choreography will feel like second nature. The more you rehearse, you can troubleshoot any potential costume malfunctions and know the outfits characteristics. A great tool is our phones! Record yourself, watch yourself back and ask for feedback from a mentor or burly friend so that you're feeling hyped up and supported.
This next tip is going to counteract the last tip, but it's important to be realistic and acknowledge that anything could happen on stage and in live performance. Being open to things taking a different turn on stage, allows perfectionism to melt away and leaves room for play. Remember, mistakes aren't really mistakes, they're an opportunity to grow and a little change in perception means seeing this as an exciting opportunity to improve your improv skills and trust yourself in the moment.
These are explorative times to lean into the parody element of Burlesque.
Image by Clementines Gallery
Tip #2 - Breath Work
Somatic practices apply visualisation and mind-body techniques to help you be more present, such as mindful breathing and grounding exercises. Learning some of these exercises can sharpen your mind and declutter your thoughts, stimulating stronger focus and intention.
For example, if I asked you to locate where you feel nervous in your body, most people might say the stomach, the chest or throat. Locating where the feeling is for you in your body and placing your hands on-top of the area, could feel like a warm hug, sending a subconscious signal to your brain that you are safe and that everything will be fine. The same way a hug from a loved one may feel, it makes us feel grounded and held.
Exercise: Orientation to Pleasure practice / Using Senses
Step 1: Place your hand on your stomach and one hand on your heart/chest. Bring awareness to the felt feeling of the weight and warmth of hand. Feet to be hip width apart, jaw, eye brows and shoulders to soften.
Step 2: Take a few deep breaths, in through the nose out through the mouth.
Step 3: Let eyes wander, with ease around the space you are in, as though they are taking a walk around a park.
Step 4: Bring your attention to what brings you moments of pleasure or joy, even if it’s just a little bit. This could be the flicker of light, the colour of something - small pockets of pleasure.
Step 5: The resource here is orienting to small moments of pleasure to support the nervous system in feeling calm.
I also think it's really valuable to have a pre-show process that is personalised to you. Creating a custom routine for yourself will help you to feel calm and collected before you even enter the stage.
A great breathwork exercise is the 'Box Breaths' technique, using breath (4x4) / Navy Seal Method. This helps to centre and ground the body into a state of calm without feeling too sleepy. It is recommended to do this for 5 - 15 minutes or until the feeling of calm has arrived.
Step 1: Breathe in counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.
Step 3: Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered.
Repeat this exercise as many times as you can as deep breathing will help you feel more relaxed and in control.
Side note: So what should we do if we're backstage at our gig and there's nowhere to do our breath work or have a moment to ourselves? Please know that it's ok to give yourself permission to take yourself somewhere and do your pre-show process. You're not being a diva if you need to relocate or if you need to be quiet.
Credit: Thank you Dani Tonks of 'Wild Play Lab' for passing on your knowledge and teaching me these techniques.
Tip #3 - Internal Dialogue
The words that we tell ourselves internally, make a huge impact on our self image. The way that we hype up our friends is the way that we should hype ourselves. So I want you to look at new mindful language and channel that into a hype mantra. Such as:
I’m going to slay on stage
The audience is going to eat me up
I know this routine inside out
I’m good at what I do
Repeating these phrases can be used as a way to pep talk yourself before you go on stage, fake it until you make it, keep telling those things to yourself until you embody it and believe it to be true.
As I've gone further into performing I've realised there’s a lot of mindfulness techniques that can be linked between our everyday self and our performance self. We are what we think. If we talk to ourselves with compassion and kindness, if we have a belief in our ability - that will really help us on stage and translate confidence.
Bonus Feature - To help elevate your internal pep talk, try adding a physical layer like jumping, tapping your hands on your body, making noises, running on the spot or shaking! You can also try power poses, creating shapes within your body that make you feel empowered. These exercises might help us turn our nervousness into excitement.
"In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act" Caroline Cadwell
One of my first photoshoots in Melbourne as Gina Stirling - by Joey Chan
Tip #4 - Practice Practice Practice!
Richard Strozzi - Heckler, an author and somatic coach, believes “300 repetitions produce ‘Body Memory...’ and ‘3,000 repetitions creates embodiment.” Think of it like muscle memory, the more we practise, the more this new exercise becomes embodied memory - a place 'in you' that will feel familiar.
The more stage time we get and experience interactions with a live audience, particularly in Burlesque where we break the 4th wall, the more intuition can kick in. If you're not getting the amount of stage time you'd currently like, that's where even in your rehearsal room, pretending as if it were a live performance, giving it your all, can substitute and help this practice along. This is also super beneficial for costume malfunctions and how you might get yourself out of a situation.
And lastly, be kind to yourself, it takes time to build a new skill and you're always learning. Enjoy the ride and see yourself as an artist who is constantly evolving, exploring and being playful with their expression.
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Image by Clementines Gallery