Actors, dancers, musicians and vocal artists who uttered these troubling words were suffering from the psychologically, physically and professionally disabling phenomenon commonly known as stage fright. They were artists from various ages and stages of fame and fortune.
While undergoing this horrendous experience, their body’s cortisol and adrenaline levels were flowing wildly. They felt terrified, devastated, exhausted and out of control.
Performers tormented by stage fright regard their panic as an integral and regular part of their work. They associate the stage, itself, with an inability to breathe, move, think, or use any creative resource. Fear of the stage becomes a phobia … a fright that occurs with a frequency that evokes a sense of anticipatory dread.
Artists experiencing stage fright believe that being on stage is the cause of their panic. Attempts to overcome stage fright with meditation, beta-blockers, and affirmations are often unsuccessful or provide only temporary relief, as the source of their fright is simply not addressed. Consequently, they continue to suffer debilitating panic attacks because they are reacting in ways that are quite out of sync with the tensions at hand. In reality, focusing on the stage is actually masking the real cause of this condition.
Stage fright is not a fear of the stage.
In the service of performance, actors, dancers, musicians and vocal artists must reach such profound levels of psychological vulnerability, or “emotional nudity” that they are left without their necessary psychological protection. As a consequence, the unconscious becomes conscious to the detriment of the performer’s emotional well-being. Stage fright is the eruption, resurrection, and reenactment of unresolved past anxieties and traumas that break out during stage work. Thus, the stage has become the “trigger” for the panic not the cause.
In our work together, many performing artists become aware that their focus on the stage, as the source of their fright, is displaced. They refocus to discover, explore, and work through the unconscious psychological forces that are the core of their panic and alarm. As they learn to keep their fright in the past, to put it into perspective, and recognize it as distinct and separate from present stage challenges, they then begin to say: