Why I don’t talk about “stage fright” and “performance anxiety”

By Kate Conklin
August 7, 2017

Carnations, Pina Bausch

The way I coach performers is based on what is wanted- I teach Performance Readiness, or Stage Readiness. What performers are looking for is to be ready to do what they care about.

The problem is, somewhere they’ve got this idea about pre-performance energy. They’ve got the idea (directly by teachers, or indirectly by colleagues and culture) that to perform, one should be “calm” or “relaxed.” And so when they experience *excitement, they re-interpret it as “stress” or “anxiety.” This construct is disempowering, extremely harmful to performers (who have likely done everything in their power to get onstage!) and inaccurate.

For centuries, performers – and now, the most recent scientific research- know perfectly well performers aren’t afraid of stages or performing. It’s what we care about most. The problem comes when a performer has a conflict between what is needed to perform- skilled excitation– and what they believe is needed (some sort of calm passivity.)

It’s a pickle. If someone is looking for a solution, they frequently look for it by naming the problem. What they look for is within a paradigm with assertions about “stage fright” and therefore the solutions provided are also within that paradigm. But by marketing with those terms, those concepts are perpetuated.  Every time I see someone marketing to  “stage-fright” or “performance anxiety” I shudder. I wonder if they are anywhere near up to date on relevant research in performance and stress physiology. I wonder if they have not resolved that conflict for themselves. I wonder how I can communicate to them that there is a crisis of perception afoot.

Mis-labelling and mis-interpretation of pre-performance energy which is appropriate and helpful– is a lot of make pretend of the worst kind- the kind that turns performers into victims, and excitement into fear.

If you are interested in the difference between stress and stimulation, and how to apply that to your performing-

Get in touch.


*Ex·cite·ment (noun)

1. a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness.
synonyms: exhilaration, elation, animation, enthusiasm, eagerness, anticipation

2. something that arouses enthusiasm and eagerness; an exciting incident.
synonyms: thrill, pleasure, delight, joy; arousal, passion, stimulation