How Upstage Helps Your Kids with Stage Fright

For most professional stage actors, stage fright is something they will have to deal with at some point in their careers.

The most famous actor of them all, Lawrence Olivier, suffered from it terribly for most of his later career and nearly quit acting when on tour with Othello. His fellow actors were ordered not to look at him on stage during the play!

The first time I experienced it was on a national tour of Canterbury Tales. After playing to several medium theatres, we were suddenly at the Chichester Theatre with 2,000 people in the audience. I was facing out reciting my tale (I was the Reeve) when my attention and focus started to separate from my body. It was as frightening as heck, and I’ve spent the rest of my stage career dealing with it.

For the kids we teach it’s slightly different, but can be just as scary. Nerves at the top of a show before the opening curtain is almost universal, and to some degree it helps launch the performance.

Once your kid is onstage, then as long as they’re busy with their character’s needs and trying to affect everyone else, they’re fine. But if they suddenly go up on their lines or one of the flats falls down how do we help them deal with it?

Here are some Upstage (theatre-skills-are-skills-for-life) techniques:

  1. We create a safe space at the beginning of rehearsal and are very mindful that there is no bullying (especially verbal) during rehearsals. Trust exercises, group exercises all encourage this.
  2. We emphasize an ensemble approach to the work and try taking the heat off the principals’ needs through multiple casting.
  3. At the end of rehearsals when we’re running the show, the kids are encouraged to get out of problems onstage as a group. For example, if one of them is in trouble, the other actors can improvise until they’re all back on track.
  4. We emphasize that intention is more important than the words and they should always go back to that if their concentration starts to drift. We concentrate on being alive in the moment as opposed to being perfect.
  5. We give them tools to deal with panic onstage: They can slow down their breathing and focus on a small detail of the other actor, like the back of their hand or a hair. After a very short time they’ll regain their focus and composure.

Here’s an interesting article on the subject:

Hope this helps!