Now, dear reader, let’s get something straight. I am primarily an actor, and I have been acting continuously since I was 12 years old. One would think that after performing for nearly eight years, I would have grown out of the infamous feeling of stage fright. After all, I have faced that fear quite a few times. Shouldn’t I be past stage fright by now? Have I not achieved the level of adult maturity where I no longer feel any fear?
In case you missed the subtext here, I still get stage fright and I’m just a little bitter about it. As I’ve gotten older it actually seems to get worse. Stage fright doesn’t just happen during shows, though, let no one mistake. It really starts about a week or two before the show opens. Worries of missed entrances, forgotten lines and embarrassing costume malfunctions start appearing and floating through my head. Next comes the inevitable dream (or three, if the production is stressful enough) in which I wake up shaking in embarrassment after watching myself try to perform my role while totally naked.
Of course there then come the backstage jitters. In the few moments before entrances onto the stage, time always seems to be moving at the speed of both lighting and molasses. Suddenly that first line seems a lot more difficult to remember. That sweat that I can feel under my costume has got to be showing somewhere.
The third and most well-known stage fright comes when I finally get on stage. I would liken the feeling of walking on stage to cresting the hill on a rollercoaster. The pit that has been forming in my stomach before my entrance drops suddenly, and I can only think about the exact moment that I am in, nothing before or after.
I suppose one of the reasons that my stage fright has gotten worse is that my fear has only been affirmed by my experience. Missed entrances happen quite frequently, to varying degrees. I once had a fellow actor miss their entrance by a very long five minutes. Missed lines happen even more frequently, at least two or three times a show, if not much more.
Additionally, mishaps from the realms of projections, lights, sound, props and set pieces happen even more. On stage I’ve broken set pieces, accidentally kicked a wall in, torn expensive stage fabric, etc. Believe it or not, there is an incredibly large amount of things that can go wrong on a live stage.
The possibility of failure is always present on stage, in innumerable forms. Stage fright will never be gone, and it exists partially for good reason: to keep performers aware of their environment and constantly ready to solve problems.
I do find it funny, though, that even the most seasoned theater professionals experience stage fright. It’s an inescapable feeling. Try it sometime.