There I was, standing backstage and listening to my fellow actors give a wonderful performance. While I was excited about the forthcoming adventure on the stage, my nervousness was out of control. My mind kept running over my lines, but there was a little voice badgering me saying, “You’re going to fail. You’re going to forget your lines. You are not cut out for this.”
As actors, we all encounter moments of insecurities, which in turn feed the natural nervousness that comes with performing – especially performing on stage, yet we must learn to act through the nervousness.
Utilizing the Nerves to Connect with Reality
The severity of nervousness before performing can greatly vary from one actor to the next. There are some actors who are able to completely forego the feelings of nervousness, while there are others who are literally unable to think due to their nerves. I was the latter for most of my career. Yes, the more you perform the less severe your nervousness will be; however, eliminating your nervousness can be a lifelong process, and may never be reached.
In order to help act through your nervousness, you must learn how to utilize your nerves in order to connect you with reality, with the here-and-now. Typically, nervousness stems from insecurities, which stem from your fear of being a failure or messing up the production.
The first step, come to peace with the fact that a mistake may happen. You may forget a line, you may forget an action cue or you may have to cover up for someone who forgets either of the two. Once you acknowledge the fact that you cannot control the future (no matter ho prepared you are), you can give your nervousness over to the universe.
Secondly, use the nervousness as a means of connecting you to the current place and time. Close your eyes and feel the tenseness in your body. Is your stomach jumping through hoops? Then really try to feel this sensation. Acknowledge these sensations, and use this knowledge to ground yourself in reality.
After doing so, tell your body to calm down. Tell your mind to be quiet. Take deep breathes while doing so and come to terms with the fact that you cannot control the future. Realize that you’ve prepared for this moment and that your own mind will not ruin it. Touch your clothing, touch the wall around you and remind yourself that you are real and these feelings are real, but they will not ruin your performance nor your confidence.