Every actor, at some point in their acting career, has felt the dreaded and sometimes inhabilitating feeling of nerves. Whether it’s at a workshop, an audition or during a performance, nerves can simply be a right pain in the ass.
WHY DO WE GET NERVOUS?
It all starts with our brain. When we perceive a threatening situation the brain sends a signal to the kidneys, where the adrenal glands release adrenaline in to the body, preparing you for FIGHT or FLIGHT. The blood is redirected to important organs (i.e. the heart) and away from the digestive system, usually resulting in butterflies, lack of appetite or nausea.
Getting an attack of nerves before the big moment can be disastrous. Symptoms can be:
Dry mouth: sometimes to the point where your lips are sticking to your teeth and your tongue is white. This has happened to me on many occasion. In my struggle to speak I find myself over articulating in a way that makes me look like I have ingested a huge amount of an illegal substance just a few moments earlier.
Shakes: nothing gives an actors nerves away more than the shakes. Whether it’s the wobbly legs of Henry V crying “Once more unto the breach..” and struggling to hold firm, or (and this is my pet hate) the shaking prompt sheet in an audition. If nothing else it takes the actors mind and focus off performing and makes them focus simply on trying to stop shaking.
Mind blank: you have spent days learning and preparing a speech, your moment arrives, you step up to perform… and nerves wraps a blanket around your brain. You suddenly can barely remember your own name let alone the lines your meant to perform. I remember being in an audition and managing to remember all my lines but at the end when the casting lady said “What was the last piece of theatre you saw?”. I simply looked at her, wide eyed, glanced up to the ceiling; in the hope that I would recover a memory from the cracks in the ceiling tiles and finally had to admit “I can’t remember”. I was rather embarrassed and Miss Casting seemed less than impressed. The annoying thing was I had been to see a great many shows that months but my dysfunctional memory made me come across as a complete ignoramus.
Dicky tummy: The words may not be coming out of your mouth but you can count on extraordinarily loud sounds coming from your stomach. I struggle to eat anything before an audition or performance. My stomach seemingly decides it’s going to host a circus event, complete with tumbling trapeze and lion roars. And the loudest tummy grumbles are always perfectly timed to arrive during the dramatic moments of pure silence.
HOW DO WE TACKLE NERVES?
We know that nervousness begins in the brain. This is good news because what we think is the one thing we have great control over. Nerves begin because we either view a situation as threatening or we imagine failure where we really want to succeed. Professional athletes are taught to do one of two things. One: quiet their minds of all negative thoughts and simply tell themselves they are performing in a friendly competition and to treat it like training. Two: Imagine themselves at top of their game, confident in the knowledge that they have already won. Positive thinking is very powerful and often underestimated. As an actor you must first make sure that you are prepared and then simply choose confidence. Imagine that big audition as a workshop, or as the first rehearsal of a job that is already yours. If the nerves begin to creep take a deep breathe and try clear your mind of negative thoughts. Trust in your preparation. Sometimes simply pretending to be confident leads in to real confidence because you immerse yourself into a positive mindset. I once heard the following analogy and loved it.
“Nerves are like a run-away bus, with no brakes, travelling down a steep hill. Gradually picking up speed. You can either, cower at the back of the bus until it hits the bottom, crashes and burns or you can jump into the driving seat and steer that bus to a safe place.”
Fear is a choice! How you deal with fear is also a choice! These choices are yours. Make the best choice for your career.