March 2018 Chatter

Posted at 28/02/18 - 03:00 PM

It’s probably true to say that every entertainer experiences some form of heightened anxiety just prior to performing. It manifests itself in different ways ranging from a dry mouth, to butterflies in the stomach to even perhaps some sweating or hand trembling. It’s all part of the process of the body preparing itself for something that often takes us out of our comfort zone.

We label this feeling of unease as ‘nerves’, and for those who experience it severely, it can be a significant barrier to a good performance, because if you are unable to cope with these physiological side effects, you may become unable to present your magic adequately.

So nerves are always seen as a bad thing, but I would suggest that actually labelling all of these pre-show feelings as nerves, may be to misunderstand what is really going on. Let me explain.

The more regularly you perform and the better you know your act, the less likely you are to experience pre-show anxiety. Being well prepared helps to alleviate the uncertainties that normally create tension, and so it is easier for seasoned entertainers to control any nerves.

But that’s not to say that they don’t experience any pre-show effects at all. In fact, if you feel nothing prior to going on to perform, this could mean you are not up for the task or that you don’t care how it goes.

The difference is that the sensations are caused by a burst of adrenaline, which is your body’s way of heightening your senses in readiness for the task ahead, and this is a positive thing, because it helps you to be ‘up’ for your performance.
So whereas genuine nervousness can impair a performance, a burst of adrenaline, which may seem similar in how it affects you, should be a good thing. It helps you to perform at a higher level and to be on top of the situation.

You can tell whether you are experiencing genuine nerves or a burst of adrenaline by whether it stays with you noticeably once you start to perform. I would suggest that if your pre-show ‘symptoms’ vanish the moment you start your show, the likelihood is that you were experiencing adrenaline, and now this starts to be quickly used up as you perform.

If, however, you continue to shake, have a dry mouth, and feel a bit wobbly or shaky, then it seems to me that you are probably genuinely suffering from nerves. These may gradually subside if the act progresses well, or if things start to go a bit awry, they may surge through you more noticeably, but they will almost certainly take longer to disappear.

Re-branding the pre-show feelings from nerves to something more acceptable and positive, is helpful, I believe. Instead of thinking that you are nervous before a show, to understand that the heightened awareness is simply your body preparing you for the task ahead, helps you to deal with the sensations. To know that the moment you start to perform the anxiety will instantly leave you, is very reassuring.

Most performers experience a feeling of minor (or major!) euphoria after a successful show, and it can take quite a while to calm down. That’s the same adrenaline you felt before the show and it clearly has nothing to do with nerves.

Author: Mark Leveridge

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