Nerves and Anxiety in Theatre

  • Karli Marie Gundersen

They say every performer gets nervous. But what is TOO nervous? I have always struggled with nerves when it comes to performing. I also have a great deal of anxiety even just in normal everyday life, so when it comes to theatre, my anxiety is doubled or even tripled. I think for those who are on Broadway doing eight shows a week. Maybe the nerves disappear, maybe not. I would imagine the nerves would lessen somewhat, just from the repetition. Either way, of course, they have a little more of a reputation to uphold, if they crack really horribly while singing, people, of course, are going to talk about it because they are well known.

So why do we get SO nervous? I sometimes feel as if I'm not normal because not only do I get nervous for the big audition or call back, I even get nervous for the daily rehearsals. And the Performances? Anxiety overload! I always see my fellow cast mates backstage before shows, and they are just sitting there having normal conversations, eating normal food, getting their costumes on at the very last second. I think to myself, "How are they so chill right now?!" I feel like a psycho who shows up to the theatre like 4 hours early, already in full makeup and hair. I set out my special throat sprays, honey, a humidifier, 100 glasses of water, CBD oils, diffusers, tea, etc. You might find me pacing backstage in the dark, running my lines through my head getting into "the zone." Yeah, I guess I might be a little crazy. Haha. But I have been told that I am not the only person who does this. Is it because I care so much about my performance? Is it because of my weight issues? Is it because I am self-conscious? Or has it just become a part of "my process"? Or is it all of the above?

We are in a competitive industry. That will never change. People judge other people no matter what, unfortunately well, most people. If the reason you get so nervous before you perform is because of a specific person or because of some competition, I understand that, however, you have got to let that GO! I cannot stress enough that you got the role for a reason, even if no one in the world agrees with it, the director saw you as this role to fit their vision, and that's all that matters. YOU did it! You should not let your performance be affected negatively because of another human being. Surround yourself with people who love you, that want to lift you up, and see your smile beaming in the spotlight. Don't let intimidation take over. You are you, and that's all you can do. Rock it out like the rock star you are! (the rhyme was not intentional, I promise)

Why do people with anxiety do theatre? Well, that's easy. Because it's our home, sometimes that's our outlet, and it may be hard as hell and out of our comfort zone, but hey, we love it! Yes, theatre can contribute to our anxiety issues at times, but it also dulls it as well. You get to be someone else for a while, just strip bare, and pour your soul out on that stage.

I know that the feeling of performing and the outcome of it is SO worth any anxiety or nerves that I ever feel during the process. And I often wonder, what if I performed every single time like it was nothing, no nerves at all, would I feel better? Well, sure. But I try to force myself to learn to like the nerves or the rumbles in your tummy before the curtain opens. Learn to like it, my friends! What if that all went away? It just wouldn't feel "right." I have learned to live with my crazy nerves because they are not going anywhere, and neither is my anxiety issues. Mental health is important.

Do theatre because you love it and to better yourself. Embrace your talent and Stay humble. Because for some of us, without theatre, we don't know where we'd be. It's OKAY to be nervous. Be proud of your nerves!