I can’t remember a time I’ve gone on stage or into the audition or even just the re- hearsal room without at least a twinge of that all-too-familiar feeling: stage fright. That rumble in my tummy and the fog that fills my head. The chill upon my heart. It happens every time. It’s a fear of everything at once and nothing in particular. All at the same time and in an instant. Confounding and crippling.
It’s best to face it. Stare it down. Recognize it for what it is. Or simply that it is. That it’s there; and, for the moment, it’s got me.
Actors are somehow tricked into believing that when they go on stage they need to be calm, cool, and collected. Or fired up and bullet proof beyond any reasonable expectation. Which places the actor in a terrific dilemma: you’re either too much, or you’re too little.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember to always start from where you are. That thing commonly called stage fright, nervousness, anxiety is actually one of the clearest indications of an actor’s sensitivity. And that $#!+ can’t be taught. It can be cultivated and encouraged, but the actor either has that wonderful awareness of and response to the world around her or not. It’s one or the other. A zero sum game. That $#!+ truly cannot be taught.
So let it be there. Let it do what it will to you. And then begin to shift your concentration to the task at hand. This is why craft, skill, technique – call it what you will – is key to the actor’s development. A methodology — a plan of attack — tells us what to do and where to go when we feel we are frozen with fear.
Lee Strasberg encouraged his actors to develop for every scene a clear line of physical action. And that is how he encouraged his actors to begin their scene work. By doing
something. Not by speaking the lines of the text nor by conjuring some emotional response. Rather, by engaging the body in specific behavior with a specific, intended goal. Feel the way you feel, start from where you are, start from who you are, but then begin your physical action and gradually allow your focus to shift to the task you’ve set yourself.
And there’s always a physical life for the actor, always an action, always a task….but more on that later.