Article: Actor nerves

Wise advice about nerves … from the Doctor:

‘Let me tell you about scared.

Your heart is beating so hard, I can feel it through your hands.

There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain … it’s like rocket fuel.

Right now you could run faster, and you could fight harder, you can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.

What’s wrong with scared?

Scared is a super power – it’s your super power. There is danger in this room, and guess what – it’s you.

Do you feel it … ?’

The Doctor [Steven Moffat]

It may be the slow-build dread that I’m not ready, I can’t do it, they won’t like it that takes over every waking thought and sleepless night for weeks and months before the first night.

It may be the thumping heart, sick feeling and inability to think, let alone speak as you stand in the wings staring at the dark-surrounded pool of light that in a few seconds will contain you.

Wherever it gets you, actors live with nerves. Every day in rehearsal, every first night, every performance, every time we face a camera, a microphone or a sea of faces, the nerves kick in. And we have to deal with them, or we can’t function.

It’s natural to be nervous. For our ancestors, all those eyes could only mean one thing – imminent attack. We put ourselves into that state of being stared at as actors, and our ancient instincts tell us we’re in
danger. Instinctive reactions kick in with that shot of adrenaline that gives us the power we need to run, fight, kill something, and we have to turn that into the energy we need to power a performance. You can’t get
rid of nerves – but you can take control of them and what they do to you and for you.

Think positive

How you think affects how you feel. Start thinking ‘I’m really excited ‘ instead of ‘I’m so nervous’, ‘I’m rehearsed and ready,’ instead of ‘I’m not ready’, and remember you’ve been cast because you’re right for the role.

Think inspirations

You’re there to inspire them with your performance, so you need to inspire yourself first. Keep inspirational photos and quotations, great reviews and positive feedback in your phone to look at when you’re feeling unsure.

Think preparation

All performances are about the audience. The camera and the mic are an audience, too. Without them, it’s only a rehearsal.

Learn it. No excuses – you’ll feel better if you know it inside out – and so will the audience.

Think rehearsal

Rehearse out loud, on your feet and with any props you’ll be using.

Think drink

No alcohol! You may think you’ll perform better after a drink, but no – you won’t. Coffee and sugar can give you the shakes, and milky drinks can affect your voice. So keep it simple with plenty of water instead, plus a good night’s sleep and some breakfast for energy and calm.

Think early

Go in early and practice – pay attention in the tech rehearsal and generally get the feel and the sound of
the room by trying out a bit of your part. Familiarity builds confidence.

Think breathing

Go back to all that voice training – the same principles will help you master nerves. Controlling your breathing will help you feel calm, slow you down if you tend to gabble, and give you the energy you need to speak. Relax your shoulders, stand up comfortably straight and breathe slowly and deeply from your diaphragm, at the base of your ribcage.

Yes, you’ll feel nervous while you’re waiting and as you start, but it will get better once you get going. All this preparation will help you feel more confident and improve your performance.

Philippa Hammond


Teacher of Public Speaking Skills: