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Clinically Proven Ways Take Control of Your Performance and Audition Anxiety

Updated on September 16, 2019
michaelalanjacobs profile image

As one of New York City's top voice teachers, Michael works with Broadway professionals, recording artists and amateur performers.

A few tips, tricks, and suggestions for dealing with audition and performance anxiety

While audition anxiety or stage fright may be unpleasant, it is not dangerous or harmful on it's own. Since physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, blushing, nausea and shortness of breath are uncomfortable (and sometimes frightening), people tend to believe that they should avoid any circumstance that brings them on. If related to anxiety, these are normal physiological responses, and are not dangerous. Surprisingly, the best way to make the anxiety worse is to start avoiding the things that bring on the anxiety. Many performers engage in escape behaviors that temporarily reduce anxiety in the moment, but ultimately make it worse in the long run. Some examples of these behaviors from our work include:

  • avoiding auditions
  • not properly preparing for auditions (not warming up, not going to class/coaching, not practicing)
  • over preparing for auditions (spending more time than a trusted coach would suggest)
  • apologizing in the audition room
  • switching material at the last minute due to fear

What is interesting is that our minds often come up for legitimate reasons to avoid doing things that scare us. Maybe we convince ourselves that we don't have time or money to go to voice lessons, but we still go buy a new pair of shoes. Perhaps we tell ourselves that we won't be able to get off from work in order to attend an audition, and don't bother trying.

Patti Murin, Broadway star, famously came out as suffering from performance anxiety

Patti Murin, Anna in Frozen on Broadway
Patti Murin, Anna in Frozen on Broadway | Source

Audition Anxiety Poll

How much are you held back by audition and performance anxiety?

See results

Ok, that's now what?

There are three things that you can start doing now to move in the right direction:

  1. Embrace your anxiety symptoms:

    Rather than trying to escape your anxiety symptoms, try to invite them in. Welcome the sweating, trembling and dry mouth. Trying to push anxiety away only makes it worse. If I told you right before entering the audition room that very sensitive "anxiety detectors" were being attached to you. The casting director is ONLY concerned about your anxiety level. If you have any anxiety, you don't get cast. If you have none, you automatically book the role of a lifetime. What are the chances that you would book the role? The anxiety is already there and it isn't dangerous. You may as well not make it worse!

  2. Start engaging. Stop Avoiding:

    So what can you do if you find you are engaging in avoidance? Start attending auditions, and come up with a solid plan for how you would like to "be" at auditions. Would you like to be prepared and show up for all of the auditions that are appropriate for you? Pick concrete, achievable goals like, "I want to go to a vocal coaching before I audition," rather than emotion-based goals like, "I want to be less anxious at auditions." As I mentioned earlier, trying to fight the anxiety only makes it worse. If you are having trouble coming up with concrete goals, you might imagine what advice you would give to a friend about how to prepare, what to attend, etc. and stick to that advice.

  3. Seek the right professional help:

    Additionally, you should be working with a therapist and/or a coach who is experienced at helping you to discern between these anxiety-based behaviors and more helpful behaviors. For example, it may make sense to change your song at the last minute if you receive new information about what the casting director wants from the audition monitor, but not because you suddenly become worried that you might not be able to belt that high E during the song.

Lisa Jakub describes her struggle with anxiety in her book, “Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression and learning to embrace your weird"

Lisa Jakub, famous for her role in Mrs. Doubtfire
Lisa Jakub, famous for her role in Mrs. Doubtfire | Source

What more can I do?

If you are looking for more help dealing with your audition or performance anxiety, we suggest looking for a therapist who uses scientifically-based treatments for performance anxiety or social anxiety such as CBT or ACT. You can start your search either at The Actor's Fund or Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy websites. ACT for Actors, a program specifically designed to treat audition and performance anxiety in musical theater performers is based on the behavioral and cognitive techniques used in ACT and CBT. Michael Jacobs, a vocal coach, voice teacher and clinical psychology PhD candidate whose research focuses on the treatment of audition anxiety, provides coaching and voice lessons in NYC and guest teaches throughout the United States, internationally, and via Skype or FaceTime.

Michael Jacobs is pioneering innovative research into audition anxiety, performance anxiety and stage fright

Michael Jacobs, BFA, MA
Michael Jacobs, BFA, MA

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Michael Jacobs


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