Although the experience of performing can be wildly exciting, nervousness often comes along as a side effect. But the good news is that you are not alone! Everyone struggles with out of control nerves. That said, it’s not normally possible to obliterate these nerves altogether, nor is it beneficial. It’s a much better idea to manage and calm pre-performance nerves through the creation of your own personal pre-performance ritual.
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1. Get moving.
A still body and mind can potentially elevate stress, causing you to dwell on the fact that you are nervous. But sometimes all you need is a good shake out to get into a better frame of mind. A great exercise for this is the classic 8-Count Shake➝.
2. Make a playlist.
Create a playlist in advance, and fill it with all of the songs that put you in a great mood. And don’t forget to bring your headphones with you, so that you can jam out before the show if needed. And if you’re looking for some pre-made playlists, you can check out Theatre Trip on Spotify➝.
3. Distract yourself.
Talk to people. Write things down. Text someone. Organize your bag. If you’re busy enough, you won’t have time to stress out before your performance.
4. Fake it.
“Fake it til you make it” is a real thing! If there is someone in your life who you admire for their confidence, now is the time to pretend to be them for a bit. Put on your most confident face, and enjoy the transformation.
There are so many great resources for those who are just starting out with meditation, Headspace➝ being an especially good one. These types of exercises will help you to become more centered, on and off the stage.
6. Find your anthem.
You know that song that you could listen to a million times and never tire of? That song that makes you feel on top of the world? Deem that song to be your anthem, and blast it as needed. If you need extra inspiration, here’s a Broadway Dance Party Playlist➝ that’s so much fun!
7. Get in character.
If you want to calm pre-performance nerves, it could be helpful to step into your character’s shoes a little bit early. What would your character be doing right now? For example, if you’re playing Rapunzel in Into the Woods, you can start by brushing your hair. Or if you’re Pierre in The Great Comet, read a book.
8. Be prepared.
Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to prepare before the big day. The more prepared you are, the less intense your nerves will generally be. Whether it’s for an audition, college project, or actual performance, Make a preparation plan and stick to it, every time. One of my favorite books related to this is The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande➝.
Sometimes just having the right breathing patterns is enough to spread the feeling of calm. Learn a few breathing exercises in advance so that you have them on hand in the case of panic.
10. Write it down.
Whether it’s coloring, drawing, or simply writing a journal entry, there is something undeniably therapeutic about that connection between pen and paper. Keep a little notebook with you so that you can always express yourself in this simple and private way.
11. Create a routine.
After trying out some of the things on this list, determine which ones really work for you, and put them together to create your own pre-performance ritual. This way, you’ll be calm, cool, and collected, making others come to you for pre-show wisdom.
12. Find a trinket.
Sometimes, just having something in the hand is enough to help with nerves. Maybe you are one to feel grounded by a smooth rock, or something heavy and metallic. Or maybe crystals are more of your thing. Experiment with different comfort items, and see what works for you.
10. Drink tea.
A warm cup of tea can be beneficial for your voice, nerves, and overall health. Just make sure not to make it too hot.
14. Spread kindness.
Once you become aware of the fact that you are not the only one struggling with nerves, the calmness will come naturally. Keep an eye on the people around you. If you see someone who is also nervous, you can always help them out by distracting them with a fun video, or by opening up about your own feelings.
15. Play games.
Let’s face it, one of the best parts of being in theatre is the fact that you get to play fun theatre games all the time. So why not take advantage of that now? Ask around and see if anyone wants to play a nerve-busting theatre warm-up game with you. If you need help coming up with new games, you can pick up 101 Drama Games, by David Farmer➝.
16. Get spiritual.
This could mean prayer, if that’s how you roll. Or, you could create your own spiritual traditions. Maybe you have theatre ghosts that you can eliminate through incense, Or maybe you can first make a prayer to the theatre gods. Get creative and have fun with this one!
17. Practice self-care.
Make sure you are eating right and sleeping well all throughout the show – from the first rehearsal to the closing night. Your health and happiness will have a huge impact on everything you do, so allow that to be your first priority.
18. Soak it up.
Despite how you may feel in this moment, nerves are actually a good thing. Nerves can make you feel alive. They are a sign that you are doing something that challenges and excites you. And most importantly, they can breathe energy and life into your performance. So don’t try too hard to push them away. It’s good to have a few tools on hand in which you can use to calm pre-performance nerves, but eliminating them entirely is not necessary.
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Author: Stacy Karyn
Stacy Karyn is the founder of Theatre Trip, author of The Thespian’s Bucket List, and creator of The Cast Album List. She holds a BA in theatre, a TESOL drama certificate, and has worked and interned with Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters.