Performance Anxiety and Young Actors

For any creative process to be successful, it is important that the critical voice of perfection takes a back seat. Nothing will squelch creativity like the fear of being judged or of “not doing it right.” And for those of us in the performing arts, this is especially tricky because as much as we may practice and feel good about what we’ve done in rehearsal, as soon as we’re on stage, on camera or in front of people, fear and anxiety may creep in, keeping us from our most free and expressive performance.

Although some children love the spotlight, there is a good chance that by the time they reach adolescence inhibitions may well begin to surface. Of course adults, too can suffer from performance anxiety. Many an audition I have blown by not allowing myself the time to release the stress of revealing my emotional life to perfect strangers before I enter the casting office.

Part of the business of acting is learning to pick yourself up, learn from your error, and correct it on the next round. And if I am fortunate enough to book a role on a film or TV show, I make sure I use my down time on the set to focus and relax.

For a child, however, even performing in front of classmates can often be a terrifying experience. That terror may not necessarily be manifested as a meltdown, but it could mean their “performance” amounts to little more than a recitation of the lines they have memorized, which isn’t really acting at all.
So how do we get kids in a state free enough to emotionally connect with the lines they learn in front
of an audience?

This sounds like a no-brainer, but is is sometimes surprising how many kids show up to acting class having only rehearsed their material a couple of times at most. Nothing effects one’s confidence like standing in front of people without knowing what to say next.

Indeed, I don’t know of any actor who hasn’t had a nightmare at some point of being on stage without knowing their lines. Yikes! We don’t want such a nightmare to become a reality for beginning young actors. That is why at Gary Spatz’s The Playground we always give students two copies of their scenes, so that they can work with someone at home.

It is important to know that gauging kids’ growth in acting class is different from gauging their advancement in school. The best feedback we can give parents for the first several weeks of class is to tell them their child was prepared and having fun. But if kids constantly feel pressure to get “good” feedback from their acting teachers in the way they feel pressure to get good grades in school, chances are they will feel increasingly restricted. The voice of perfection will not just move to the passenger’s seat, but will be driving the car.

Simply helping kids to learn their lines without critiquing their delivery and allowing them to have fun in class is the best support a parent can give their budding young actor.

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