First off, I fully acknowledge that we are all different and that what works for some won’t work for others. You’ll need to experiment to find out what works for you.
With that said, however, simply put: Until you have the right attitude, career elements, and experience in place, it’s very possible that you will have performance anxiety and/or get nervous before and during auditions and performances. Even then, you still may experience performance anxiety and nervousness whenever the stakes feel higher than normal, no matter the stage of your career.
I think of performance anxiety as an ongoing fear or unease relating to the audition or performance process, whereas I think of nervousness as the more immediate experience right before performance.
When we get nervous before and in an audition, it feels like we’re not in control of our mind and body. We can’t think straight. It’s the effect of the body’s way of dealing with a perceived threat. The acting opportunity has triggered our fight or flight response. Intellectually, we know we’re not in any physical danger, but many of us have, unfortunately and inadvisably, tied our hopes, dreams, self-worth, identity, reputation, the promises we made to ourselves, and the expectations of others to the outcome of an audition.
The emotional danger we’ve put ourselves in can be very real and emotional damage can often be worse than physical. Your body knows how to heal wounds, but do you know how to heal your own heart? Just look up the effects of cortisol on the body, one of the hormones released by the body in response to stress. It can affect vision, memory, and a bunch of others bodily functions you probably want in working order when acting….
If you’re struggling to keep your nerves in check during auditions, here are three tips to help curb them:
1. Competence makes you confident. The biggest factor contributing to most actors’ stress and anxiety that leads to nervousness, understandably, is that they don’t know what they are doing. Acting is a skill that takes time and dedication to master. And you need to be at least somewhat masterful to book network TV shows and studio feature films on a consistent basis.
Training and becoming skilled makes you competent, which in turn makes you confident, effortlessly. Any activity that requires practice is initially daunting, but once you become so experienced and skilled in it, the very idea of becoming nervous becomes absurd.
2. Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. Let’s say that you are skilled and experienced. Now it comes down to your acting process—how you prepare your work ahead of the audition. Many actors have no clear process at all, or have weird or incomplete ones that they learned from well-meaning but clueless teachers that unfortunately taught them bad habits.
One of these fallacies is the idea of being “over-rehearsed.” Of course you can over-work material in a day. Depending on how many pages you’ve been given, 2–4 hours is usually enough time to fully prepare. But too many actors have been scared away from giving material the amount of rehearsal that is essential for consistently high-quality work for fear of it being, so called, “over-rehearsed.”
Many actors confuse solid prep and rehearsal with “over-working” their material. It’s also easy to rationalize laziness and poor work ethic by claiming to not want to over-work the material. Regardless, if you under-prepare because you’re afraid of over-working the scene, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel unsure of your ability to deliver in the room.
For more on this topic, check out my three-part series, “12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances.”
3. Your focus shouldn’t be on booking a job. Your focus should be on being a great artist and doing brilliant work. Trust me, booking will follow.
I refer to this whole category as “getting your head on straight.” I can’t tell you how many actors are so mentally messed up due to a lack of understanding about how things actually work—the audition process, the “business” of the acting industry, representation, casting, production, training, etc.
But what about the art? If you’re putting more time into the business of acting than the art, then you’re kind of a businessperson first, not an artist. The industry is actually more interested in great artists. We have reps and managers to handle the business end of things.
When I used to book bands and singer-songwriters in the Midwest a dozen years ago, I would constantly be auditioning new artists who wanted to join my roster. I noticed that the ones with the media kits, fully-produced CDs, and slickest packaging were usually the worst artists. It was as if they thought that appearances were more important than the quality of their art, or that they were trying to compensate for it. I can tell you that I only took on great artists even if they had crappy materials. The materials I could help them with, the art I could not.
In closing, I can’t promise that you’ll never be nervous, but I can tell you that if you address the underlying reasons why you see the industry as a threat, and instead put the necessary pieces in place to support a joyful, worthwhile artistic journey, you’ll drastically reduce the fear and anxiety that leads to feeling nervous.
At that point, feeling nervous will be a dull background sensation, like feeling a little too warm or chilly, but have no impact on your ability to deliver when it counts.
…Except for those rare occasions when it makes you mess up because we’re people and not robots, for Pete’s sake.
- Apr 25, 2018 5 Risks of Acting in Non-Union Commercials Apr 25, 2018
- Aug 17, 2017 How to Take Full Advantage of Your SAG-AFTRA Membership Aug 17, 2017
- May 30, 2017 3 Essentials for Brilliant Work May 30, 2017
- Feb 9, 2017 Stop Apologizing Feb 9, 2017
- Jan 18, 2017 Why Good Slates Matter Jan 18, 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- Sep 9, 2016 2 L.A. Session Directors on What Actors Need to Know Sep 9, 2016
- Jun 6, 2016 We’re Not Evolved to Handle Acting Well Jun 6, 2016
- May 31, 2016 3 Ways Stage Training Adversely Affects On-Camera Actors May 31, 2016
- Apr 14, 2016 4 Ways for Working Actors to Deal With Emotional Stress Apr 14, 2016
- Dec 1, 2015 How to Handle Unwanted Romantic Advances From Industry Pros Dec 1, 2015
- Nov 11, 2015 Stop Calling It Rejection Nov 11, 2015
- Oct 7, 2015 5 Universal Mistakes I See Actors Make Oct 7, 2015
- Sep 29, 2015 The Unsung Heroes of Casting: Cori-Anne Greenhouse Sep 29, 2015
- Aug 31, 2015 Why Acting Is and Needs to Be Fun Aug 31, 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 12, 2015 Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough May 12, 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- Nov 28, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 3 Nov 28, 2014
- Nov 26, 2014 7 Steps Toward Better Headshots Nov 26, 2014
- Nov 12, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 2 Nov 12, 2014
- Nov 5, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 1 Nov 5, 2014
- Oct 13, 2014 Why Actors Must Take Care of Their Bodies Oct 13, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 2: Matching Your Essence to Your Marketing Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 6, 2014 We Are Each Other’s Greatest Resource Oct 6, 2014
- Sep 29, 2014 An Ode to Actors Everywhere Sep 29, 2014
- Sep 23, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 2 Sep 23, 2014
- Sep 16, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 1 Sep 16, 2014
- Sep 9, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 3: 3 More Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 9, 2014
- Sep 2, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 2: 3 Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 2, 2014
- Aug 25, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons? Aug 25, 2014
- Aug 18, 2014 The 6 (Often Thankless) Jobs in Commercial Casting Aug 18, 2014
- Aug 11, 2014 You Are Enough: Why You Need to Just Be Yourself in Commercial Auditions Aug 11, 2014