Ah Jasus me bleedin' nerves
Actors waiting at the side of the stage just as they have been given their 'beginners call' can be quite a sight to behold. A secret camera on a cast of 8 lets say could provide some very interesting information on the nature of performing/nerves.
Some Actors are on the verge of freaking out, others are pacing and are full of nervous energy, others stay focused and still as if trying to contain it all (as not to waste it), some are talking to themselves quietly, others chatting about everyday things (relaxed? Covering the nerves?), I've even seen many say a quick prayer.
I always think it's a good sign when I'm very nervous right before I go on as I can use all of that energy once I go on stage. It must be said too that once I do go on all the nerves fade away. It's kind of a surreal experience. Hard to describe.
The best analogy for myself that I can make is... imagine that you are the type of person that gets nervous about flying (like me). You're anxious enough the day before and in the airport you feel sick... then... once the plane takes off you're absolutely fine and you actually quite like it (again, me). Once on stage and the lights are up it's the safest, most relaxing and enjoyable thing I can imagine doing. I always find the two extremes fascinating.
There's a different level of nerves for each production and even each individual performance. It depends on what point in the run it is, who's in the audience, the size of the crowd etc etc
Looking back on my theatre career so far I'm amazed at how many plays I've been in the opening scene of. Very few times have I had to wait long before coming on. I'm always less nervous if the play has started already and I have to arrive in.
Also, I get less nervous if I'm pre-set on the stage. In a recent production I did (and am doing again very soon!) of 'This Lime Tree Bower' by Conor McPherson myself and actor Peter Daly start onstage chatting casually as the audience comes in and gets settled. Because of this I never get nervous for that show and so have to find alternative ways to get my energy up and be 'on it'.
Maybe it's a need to get a sense of the crowd and the vibe of the room that causes the nerves. The unknown factor in the play (where everything else has been rehearsed to a tee). Maybe it's just that old 'crossing the white line' cliché. Or better yet 'once the whistle blows' whether you're on or off stage you are in 'game mode'.
I said recently in an interview on TV3's 'Six O'Clock Show' that I had heard somewhere 'the same amount of adrenaline runs through an actor's body right before they go on as would if you were in a fairly speedy car crash'. I'd well believe it having experienced it night after night for years.
The most common phrase I have heard/used is 'Why do I do this to myself?'
There are probably thousands of books on the subject that I must look up because it has always intrigued me. But then again, maybe it's better not to know the exact psychology behind it all all. Who knows?
My Own Pre Show
I'm an Atheist and yet I always ask my Grandad to protect me once I go on stage. 'Protect' may seem like a strange choice of word but that's what I say. It's not that I believe he can literally hear me but there'a a part of him in me and that part can make things go smoothly. Right? RIGHT????
I am not superstitious in life normally but I do like to stick to the same routine. Any placebo that will make me feel 0.01 % more comfortable I want it! And yes! if you say 'Macbeth' in the Theatre I will make you leave, spin around 3 times, knock on the door and ask for permission to be allowed back in! Just ask award winning lighting designer Sinead McKenna who made the mistake recently in a Tech for 'Maz And Bricks'.
Often I will listen to music or in the last year or so I have listened to some motivational tapes. It's not so much that I need to be given a boost but they remind me that I am doing what many people out there are afraid to do... and that's do what they love! And that being an actor is such a privilege.
Have a listen to one I use.
To the actors out there... Have Courage, Be Fearless!
To our audiences, we thank you... ps keep clapping nice and loud yeah?