How To Combat Stage Fright, Part Two
BY MEGHAN VANCE • JUNE 19, 2023
In part one, “be prepared” was the mantra. Good preparation is the best way to combat stage fright. This is still true when the big day approaches. The night before and the performance day should be spent preparing, but during this time period the main goal is to take it easy.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
The night before the performance is a great time to go through your check-list: make sure clothes, music, and instrument are ready. Check the time and location for the performance and travel plans. Then do whatever you need to in order to get a good night’s sleep. Some students find it useful to think through their performance. Others exercise or do stretches in order to relax their muscles. You may need to do something, like watch a movie, to take it easy and keep your mind off the performance.
THE DAY OF
This is when Polonius’ advice to “know thyself” is key. The day of the performance is different for everyone. First, consider the time of the performance, and adjust your schedule accordingly. Night owls may need to wake early in order to be fully functional for a morning contest, while morning birds may need to take a nap before an evening concert. If you’re prone to nausea when you’re nervous, wait to eat until after the performance or eat something light and non-greasy.
Give yourself the energy you’ll need by taking your vitamins and eating your fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid sugars and other stimulants that will give a quick high but also wear off just as fast: your body will be easiest for you to control when it isn’t reacting to a roller-coaster effect. Likewise, don’t be tempted to use muscle-relaxant drugs. These impair your control and your body’s ability to react quickly during performance, and they also tend to become less and less effective with use.
Instead, Today’s Parent recommends calming the brain by using meditation, breathing, or loosening muscles. Again, light exercise or stretches can be useful. Your body should be rested, relaxed, and ready. Warm up for the performance. Take enough time to get your head in the game and your muscles engaged, but be careful not to overplay – you don’t want to wear out your muscles or burn through your energy before the performance starts. Then, like the night before, take it easy until it is time to perform.
As you near the stage, remember that the goal is to stay relaxed. Try not to hunch or tense. Practice smiling. While you’re backstage or in your audience seat, distract yourself and keep your hands loose by doing quick finger exercises. Psychology Today states that a helpful way to combat stage fright is to remember that “your fear is emotional, not rational: You have practiced and prepared, and you’re ready to present.” Remind yourself that you have prepared well.
Regulate your heart rate with breathing exercises: breathe in for 4 seconds, then out for 6, in for 4, out for 8, in for 4, out for 10, in for 4, out for 12. Dramatics.org quotes Stephanie Judy: “Don’t ‘breathe deeply.’ It’s too easy to hyperventilate and make yourself dizzy. As long as you make a slow, full exhale, the inhaling will look after itself.” Once your heart rate is controlled, think the tempo of your first piece.
As you go on stage, move and announce slowly. This helps regulate your heart rate, and it also makes you look poised and professional. Smile at the judge and audience. Dramatics.org writes, “Even if you can’t smile a lot, smile a little, because the very act of smiling counteracts the buildup of tension.” Your smile may cause the judge and audience to smile back, which helps them to take it easy as well.
Double-check that equipment such as music stands or mics are where you want them; double-check that your instrument is properly adjusted. Next check your stance and position: usually feet should be shoulder-width apart for good balance, and knees slightly bent for both balance and blood flow. Exhale slowly once more. Think about the tempo and your opening idea. Finally, start your piece.
In part three, we’ll discuss how to continue to take it easy while performing, as well as what steps to take after performing to combat stage fright.