I hear a lot of people say that they could never be a performer because they would be too nervous to get up in front of people. They also assume that just because I’m a performer that I’m never nervous when all eyes are on me. Well that’s not always true. Maybe some actors are that way, but I’m sure as heck not one of ‘em.
I always get nervous right before an audition, right before a monologue, right before I begin a dance routine. When I was on dance team in high school I would get this overpowering fear that I would mess up and lose the whole thing for my team. The fear would take over my whole body, but once the music started, I would explode all of that nervous energy into the routine. The thing about acting is that most of the time they don’t want you to have a really intense I-could-slice-you-with-my-pompom-because-my-arms-are-so-sharp kind of energy.
You have a little wiggle room in theatre because you want to play to the back of the house, but a lot of film acting is about containing. You want to have all the liveliness you would on stage focused in your eyes. You can’t very well flail your arms about and make grandiose facial expressions, but you can give a look that could kill a man because the camera is zoomed in two inches from your face.
My biggest hurdle is learning how to harness the nervousness and turn it in my favor. I used to get notes like, “More energy!” from acting teachers because I would freak out too much and get lost. There are a lot of little tricks to help combat nerves, but I got some of the best advice from one of my college professors.
One day she talked about how when she watches auditions, she notices that the actors always take this big breath before they begin their monologue. They take a moment, inhale nice and deep, exhale for a moment and then they start. She didn’t like this. And she’s a voice teacher. So I’m like, uh, what? Everyone does that. It calms you down before you perform this wonderful piece of work you’ve spent so much time preparing!
Okay, well, turns out I had it half right. The inhale is good. It’s the exhale that’s bad. Her point was that when an actor exhales, they release all the energy and they lose whatever breath they just took in. So basically if you do that, you’re starting your monologue or your sides or your scene or whatever with low energy and no breath.
If you just take a moment, inhale and go, you’ll be able to harness those nervous feelings and focus them into usable energy for your performance.
That being said, I should really take my own advice instead of forgetting every ounce of my training and blowing the first audition I had of the year. Ugh. Oh well. As my friend Jay-Z would say, on to the next one…