Picture Everyone Naked: Students Tackle Stage Fright

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Picture Everyone Naked: Students Tackle Stage Fright

Becca Siegel, Staff Writer

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To performers, stage fright can act as a tremendous barrier. Sometimes actors will forget their lines, public speakers their presentations, or dancers their routines, so petrified by the expansiveness of the stage and the pressure to succeed.

Everyone experiences stage fright, from sixth graders dancing for their parents to Broadway performers, Theatre, Dance & Film Studies Department Chair Allison Kolinski said.

Stage fright manifests itself, in varying degrees, as a feeling of nausea and stress, co-President of Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) Ben Rosenbaum (11) said.

Rosenbaum has had many experiences with stage fright, usually in the form of messing up his lines, he said. “The clearest instance in my mind is one time in seventh grade, in The Music Man, when I had a scene where I said ‘All Aboard!’ and someone cut me off and I thought I screwed up and almost passed out from that fear,” Rosenbaum said.

HMTC member Charlotte Pinney (11) also experiences stage fright in a similar way, she said. She feels a pit in her stomach before every performance, and although it has lessened as she has performed more, she still gets scared and nervous before going on stage, Pinney said. This feeling, however, subsides as Pinney begins to perform, she said.

“Although [stage fright] is terrible, it gives you the adrenaline you need to focus and just perform,” Pinney said.

To Cameron Levy (12), who has been acting for four years and played Professor Callahan in the school’s production of Legally Blonde last year, stage fright does not usually present a problem, he said. The bright spotlights onstage blind him, and he is unable to see the audience, Levy said.

“You can just look out into that sea of darkness and perform for yourself. Performing for myself helps me to concentrate on my performance and feel less vulnerable in the presence of the audience,” Levy said.

Theater teacher Alexis Dahl tries to teach her students that stage fright can be used as fuel for a performance.

In order to prepare her students for the stage, Dahl teaches them breath work, she said. In one of her breathing exercises, she instructs her students to unlock their knees while performing. This tactic helps her students relax their abdomens and breathe in a deeper way than they normally would when standing rigidly, Dahl said. Breathing more deeply helps to de-stress her students and make them focus less on their fear of the stage and more on their performance, she said.

Pinney has adapted Dahl’s breathing techniques and uses a four-seven-eight technique, where you inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. This technique usually helps her re-center herself and feel more secure, Pinney said.

Rosenbaum also uses this method of four-seven-eight breathing to calm himself before performing, he said.

Theater teacher Ben Posner focuses his teaching around memorization of lines and character, and this helps students to become less scared of the stage, he said. “More often than not, stage fright comes as a result of a fear of making a mistake, so we build in run-ups to the show so that the students have more of an experience in front of an audience and know that it is okay to make mistakes and be scared,” Posner said.

Co-Student Body President Daniel Posner (12), however, does not feel that memorization lessens his stage fright before speaking at school-wide assemblies. “I don’t ever memorize what I am going to say. Instead, I try to get outside of myself and focus on the message that I am trying to convey to the audience,” said Daniel Posner. The stage fright gives him the adrenaline and energy to perform, he said.

Director of Senior Reflections Dr. Adam Casdin encourages his presenting seniors to follow a combination of the philosophies of Ben Posner and Daniel Posner’s in order to remedy stage fright. He tells them not to memorize their speeches, but to become familiar with the words in order lessen their nerves, Casdin said.

Casdin advises the reflecting seniors to “speak to the ninth graders” in order to give each of their speeches a direct audience and give the speakers a sense of comfort in the students that look up to them, he said.

“When I was performing on Broadway, I always had a little bit of stage fright before the curtain would go up. What I would tell myself then and what I tell my students now is that you just have to breathe into the stage fright and trust that you know what you are going to do,” Kolinski said.