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Taming Stage Fright for Voice Actors

Taming Stage Fright

by Lara Hirner

Picture this:

You’ve spent the last few months attending workshops, working one-on-one with coaches, practicing, carefully curating your demo scripts, and finessing your reads. You’ve learned about the industry, maybe started setting up a home studio, started playing around with editing software. You’re starting to think about marketing, designing a website, figuring out ways to get yourself out there and get working. 

You’ve invested time and money preparing for this day – demo day! You’re excited. You’re ready. It’s go time.

But suddenly, the door to the booth closes and it’s like the air has left the room. You tip from excited into panicky, your heart beginning to race. Your mouth goes dry. Words that tripped easily from your tongue are suddenly stumbling blocks. You make a mistake. You start over and make the same mistake again. Your voice shoots up an octave, it’s suddenly really hard to slow your reads down, and you find yourself running out of breath where in practice you could easily finish a phrase. Your coach is trying to get you to calm down, and you can hear them, but by the time you restart your read, you’ve forgotten what they asked you to do. The engineer is looking at the clock and the more you try to get things under control, the worse it gets. 

You’ve just been hijacked by your amygdala, a teeny-tiny, tricky little part of your brain that is responsible for fight-or-flight responses. Because we often need to respond to threats and stress before our logical brain has had time to process it thoroughly (think touching a hot stove), the amygdala has a direct pathway to our brainstem that bypasses logical thought. This is good for speeding up our responses and keeping us safe. Unfortunately, we can also interpret psychological stress as a physical threat, and the amygdala can’t tell the difference. So, suddenly a microphone turns into a coiling snake, and this sets off physiological stress responses – rapid, shallow breathing; racing heart beat, racing thoughts, muscle tension, sweating, dry mouth, etc. Stage fright. Or, booth fright? Obviously not ideal for giving our best vocal performance…and getting hired (or hired again).

Taming stage fright isn’t limited to new performers either. Many seasoned performers suffer from some form of performance anxiety – it isn’t something we just get used to or goes away with time and experience. But the good news is, just like you are training your voice and your acting skills, you can train your body’s response to stress so that if it manifests in the booth, you know how to hijack the hijack! Mindfulness techniques help us to become aware of when we are becoming stressed so we can utilize strategies that help bring things back under control – breathing exercises, progressive relaxation exercises, meditation, and visualization techniques can all be powerful tools to help us when taming stage fright and channel that energy into a more positive outcome. The more we practice these techniques outside of the booth, the easier it becomes to activate them inside the booth. 

For example, add “square breathing” into your warm up routine – breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold at the top of the breath for a count of four, exhale slowly over a count of four and hold at the bottom of the breath for a count of four. Repeat this four times. The next time you feel nerves creeping in, break out that four-count breath and see how focusing on your breath gives your logical brain time to override the stress response. The more you practice the technique, the more easily your body will respond when you need it to!

If you’re new to mindful practices, struggle with stage fright, or would just like to learn more about specific techniques you can use, we’re rolling out a new advanced level class this month – Taming Stage Fright in the Booth. If you haven’t yet, consider taking our Vocal Health Class as well, as it’s a strong foundation which we’ll be working on in this new class.

Lara Hirner is a certified Speech Language Pathologist practicing in Boston, MA and Edge Vocal Care Coach. With Edge she teaches Vocal Health – the basics of caring for your instrument, Taming Stage Fright in the Booth, and works one-on-one with students to help keep their voices in tip-top shape to handle the demands of the voice over industry! If you want to work with Lara one-on-one, you can book your Private Coaching Session here.