Seen this pic floating around the interwebs? Sounds like a nice idea, yes?
Yes. It is nice. It’s a nice idea for how to live your life. It’s also super useful for learning how to face your fears as an actor.
(FYI it is apparently an excerpt from Light is the New Black: A Guide to Answering Your Soul’s Callings and Working Your Light by Rebecca Campbell.)
I’m not talking about ‘stage fright’. I consider stage fright to be another kettle of fish, where you are struggling with an extreme fear, which might manifest physically (vomiting, shakes, shortness of breath, etc) and actually stop you going on stage. Here I’m talking about milder anxieties, which won’t stop you performing, but are still significant and will hold you back from me being the best actor you can be. And most actors have them, particularly when you first start out.
Here are some anxieties that I’ve heard over the years:
“I hope I don’t stuff up my lines.”
“I hope they can hear me in this big space.”
“I hope the audience is nice.”
“I hope I look like I know what I’m doing…”
And so many more.
Often these thoughts are not just subconscious, but regularly vocalised in rehearsal or backstage. While it’s normal to have these thoughts, they are generally not helpful to you or anyone around you. You need to learn to kick them to the kerb as soon as possible. You probably know that – but it’s often it’s hard to gain control over these negative thoughts.
Personally, I have learned to face my fears in two major ways.
- You are not for everyone
Just like the little excerpt above, it’s helpful to remember that you are not for everyone. Every time you perform, there will be someone in the audience who thinks you’re rubbish. If you’re performing in a small theatre, you might even be able to see them scowling at you or yawning during your big moment. You need to know that just because someone thinks you’re a crap actor, it DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE A CRAP ACTOR. Even if this person is important, like a casting director or a drama school teacher or a famous actor. Art is subjective, which means some people will like what you do, and some won’t. Get used to it now and feel the freedom that comes with it.
- You have the right to be here
I’ve noticed that for many actors, when they first start out, there is a sense of ‘waiting for permission’. Waiting for a sign that they are good enough at acting to actually pursue it as a career. This permission might come from getting a big role, a great review, an award, or acceptance to drama school. But you need to know – you may never get an obvious sign. For many actors, it takes years to get that kind of recognition – or it may never come at all. This industry is full of actors wanting that recognition, and to a certain extent it’s a roll of the dice whether you get it or not. So how long are you going to wait?
Give up on waiting for someone to tell you that you are a good actor and start believing that you have as much right to be on that stage as any other actor. It doesn’t actually matter how good you are or how many awards you get. You have the right to pursue your dreams. Learn this now and don’t hold back.
I hope you are brave and can remind yourself of these positive concepts every time you audition or perform. I’d love to hear from you about what works for you – have you found your own way of facing your fears?