It's that time of year again, everybody. And I'm not talking about holidays. I'm talking about the winter performances. If you're in much of any sort of activity, you've got winter performances coming up. Concerts, competitions, whatever it may be. All the groups want to put on something to show what they've done all autumn.
All right, I think I'm exaggerating a little. But plenty of people have performances coming up, and if you don't like doing things in front of other people, that can be pretty scary. Some people end up not wanting to do it at all, some people love performance and don't understand how others can be scared. Other people are terrified of performing and yet love it whenever they do. I'm part of that last group. I love performing – once I'm actually doing it.
Right before your performance, it can feel like nothing but a never ending list of what could go wrong. Individually and as a whole, the group is doing all sorts of last minute things to prevent this disaster, or that one, or that one, and then you start worrying that everything could go wrong.
But let me remind you, it will most likely be fine. All that pre-performance worrying and practicing that's going on often ends up creating an excellent performance. Maybe that one song that your group has literally never played right will be perfect for the first time when you're onstage. Or the lines of your play that always get forgotten will be remembered when onstage. (Both of those things have happened to me.)
Or maybe it won't be perfect. Maybe some of the actors will accidentally skip a set of dialogue that takes up an entire page of the script, or one of the best dancers in your group will miss the cue to come onstage and so you have to do it without them. (These things have also happened to me.) The thing to remember when that happens is that the audience probably didn't even notice. They expect the performance to be good, and so it seems good to them. The performers can always come up with something that could have been better, but if the audience is pleased, they did a good job.
But what if, despite all this proof that the performance will work out, you still have butterflies? it's likely you do! I've experienced firsthand having performances come together magically - and having them teeter near disaster but squeak through, yet every time I'm supposed to perform, I get nervous and shaky and feel like my chest has seized up a little. Your body is sensing danger, and it can be very hard to convince that there is none.
First of all, you have to remember to breathe. It sounds like silly and obvious advice, but when you've got stage fright, you'll often realize that your breathing is short and shallow. Just making sure to inhale and exhale fully goes a long way toward relaxing you. You can try breathing in for a count of six or seven and then exhaling for seven or eight, or try letting out deep, gusty sighs until your chest loosens. When you're nervous, it can be incredibly hard to breathe deeply, but don't give up!
Second, consciously relax your muscles. Similarly to the breathing, your body often tenses up when you're nervous, and it stresses you, creating a feedback loop where you get tenser and tenser. If you make sure your shoulders are down and your legs are under you, you'll start feeling better. Try standing with your feet apart and your hands on your hips. This stance has actually been proven to you feel more confident and in control.
Finally, here are a few tricks that I use that build on the previous two paragraphs. The first one is to hold your arms out in front of you and shake your hands vigorously. Just let them bounce wildly on the end of your arms. It sounds weird, but try it. It actually does release tension. It's a classic performers' trick.
Then there's something that I learned recently called Stop, Listen, Breathe. First of all, stop moving. Completely. Sit still if you're sitting down, or lean against a wall or something else if you're standing. It doesn't matter where you are, just Stop. Close your eyes, and Listen. Listen to everything around you – the people talking, the doors squeaking, the light buzzing. Listen to every little thing. And then, while you're Listening, Breathe. Try to take deep breaths and let the sounds wash over you. It's a grounding exercise, and when you open your eyes and dive back into the fray, you'll have reset your brain somewhat and can take everything as it comes.
The last thing you can do is remind yourself that it will be what it is. Your job is to do your part as well as you can, and if you do that, you've done everything within your power to make the performance work out. And chances are, it'll be great.
If you have a performance coming up, tell me in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts and (after the fact) how it went. I've got some performances of my own coming up, so you're not alone. We can prepare together!
And in the end, remember to have fun!