Do you ever experience bouts of debilitating fear or anxiety around auditions or performing? You’re not alone. Lately I have been coaching more and more clients who feel their anxiety is getting in the way of them being able to perform at their best.
Preparing for an audition or performance is no different from preparing for a sporting match. Have you ever seen an Olympic athlete before an event? They have their headphones on. They’re turned away from he scoreboard. They’re doing some sort of physical warm up. Every actor needs to prepare their own “pre-game” routine as well. And it should include physical, vocal, AND mental preparation. Having a “pre-game” routine will give you something positive to focus on. And by doing the same thing before each audition, you will create a habit. Just having the habit will help you prepare your body and mind and calm your nerves.
So how do you go about creating a pre-game ritual? As we said, your “pre-game” should include 3 main features: physical, vocal, and mental. Below are some suggestions to help you get started.
PHYSICAL WARM UP
The butterflies you get when you’re nervous are actually your body trying to harness adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, especially in conditions of stress. It increases your blood circulation rate and your breathing, and it prepares your muscles for exertion. Your body is ready to go into battle! That, in itself, is not a bad thing. You just need to help your body know where to focus that energy.
Start your pre-game routine with something aerobic and high energy. Since you will probably be in a place without much personal space (rehearsal studio hallway/stairwell), aim for something with small-ish movement.
Jumping rope is a great aerobic energy-generating exercise, but it’s not always convenient to whip out a jump rope. But you can hop up and down just about anywhere. Hop thirty times. Finish by standing for a moment with good posture and taking four slow low breaths.
Tense & Release
After getting out some of your excess energy, next you need to try to identify where in your body you may be holding your stress. When we feel anxious, we often hold that tension in our muscles. Different people hold tension in different places. I tend to hold it in my neck. Some people hold it in their back or their faces. By relieving the stress in your muscles, you can usually reduce your anxiety levels.
Start by finding a quiet place to sit or lay down. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe slowly into your nose and out of your mouth. Next, squish up you face as small as you can and hold it there for a count of 3 then release. Repeat. Next tense your neck. Try to isolate each muscle group and just tense those muscles. Work your way down your body: shoulders, upper arms, forearms, hands, etc. When you finish, check in with yourself to see if there are any areas of your body you may have missed or are still tense.
This last physical exercise focuses on posture and grounding.
Kneel on the floor with your feet under your buttocks (if you have trouble with your knees or back, do this sitting in a chair instead). Sit up straight with your neck and spine in a line perpendicular to the floor. Feel like you have a string coming out of the top of your head and someone is pulling it straight up. Next focus on the ground below you and feel like your body is sinking down into the floor. Do not lose your alignment and continue to feel the string pulling you up. You are grounding and pulling up at the same time.
Next, lift your arms in front of you to shoulder level (but don’t let your shoulders come up). Tightly interlock your fingers, palms facing you. Now rotate your wrists and forearms so that palms face out, fingers away. Keep elongating, pulling up and grounding down. With fingers clasped and palms facing away, raise your arms until palms face the ceiling. Keep your shoulders pinched back, sternum lifted, chest expanded, and relax your throat and neck. Look straight ahead, body and neck in a straight line perpendicular to the ground. Breathe evenly and hold the posture for one minute or as long as it’s comfortable.
VOCAL WARM UP
After warming up your body, it’s important to warm up your voice. Vocal warm ups are not just for singers. When we get nervous, our tone can change and our voice can become shaky. Vocal cords are muscles and they need to be warmed up just like our bodies.
You can start your vocal warmup with a yawn or a sigh. To begin, put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Inhale slowly. Your chest should stay relatively relaxed while the abdominals release, along with the diaphragm (located in your rib cage). When you exhale, you will slowly feel the lower abs release to their resting position. Make sure your chest and upper torso remain open and upright. Take another inhale and then sigh on the exhale, keeping the tongue, jaw, and shoulders in a relaxed. You can then bring this feeling of release on the breath to your other vocal exercises.
Practice Your Slate
The “spoken word” results from three components of voice production: voiced sound, resonance, and articulation. Practicing your slate before your audition is a great way to get a handle on your nerves. Your slate should go like this,
“Hello my name is XXXXX XXXXX.” (breathe)
“I will be performing XXXXX from XXXXXX.”
You see that we want you take a breath after you say your name. This will remind you to breathe and also force you to slow down. It will ensure you have enough air to finish your slate and that you speak slowly enough for the people in the room to hear and understand you (we have to stop a lot of nervous performers in the audition room to ask them repeat things because they rush). Practice being in your resonance when you slate. Resonance is the built in amphitheatre in your mouth. By using the breath to support your speaking voice, the soft palate will automatically raise, helping the sound to resonate in the audition room.
Once you have your breathe and resonance flowing you’ll need to get ready to articulate. Tongue twisters are a great way to get your mouth moving. Here are a few of our favorites:
He threw three free throws
Red Bulb Blue Bulb Red Bulb Blue Bulb
A proper cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot
The queen in green screamed
I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen
Aim to say each tongue twister 3 times correctly.
So now that you’ve warmed up your body and your voice, the last element you need in your pre-game warm-up is for your mind.
Close your eyes. See yourself walking into your audition or going on stage for your performance. Visualize everything: from what the door looks like, to who and what is in the room. See yourself walking into the room or onto the stage. See the audience or the people behind the table. See yourself performing. Visualize yourself doing a great job and the people watching really enjoying it. Note how relaxed you are and how much you are enjoying sharing your material with them. See yourself finishing and feeling great about how it went.
Projecting something positive instead of letting your mind go to the negative is a powerful tool in your pre-game arsenal. By visualizing how you want the audition to go, you can feel what it would be like to experience it in a calm frame of mind. Tennis champion Serena Williams says: “You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”
Mantra / Meditation
Meditation is a powerful tool as well. There a lot of apps now available to teach you basic meditation skills (we like Simple Habit and Headspace). Meditating for just 5 minutes can be beneficial. To start, simply close your eyes and take 6 deep diaphragmatic breaths. All this means is that you take air in through your nose, and exhale out through your mouth. Studies have shown that just taking 6 deep breaths are enough to quell stress response.
On your inhale, try repeating a mantra like one of the ones below. On the exhale, think the word “Relax.”
I am a brave person.
I am happy with who I am.
I am confident and self-reliant.
I am in charge of my own fear.
I am going to share my gift.
* * *
That’s it! That’s all you need to start getting a handle on your stress and anxiety. Start with the above pre-game exercises, but if you don’t like any of them, swap it out with one of your own. The goal is to create a pre-game that works for you. If you are diligent and do your routine consistently, you should be able to limit your nerves and be more present in your auditions.
Let us know how it goes!
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