Stage Fright

Does playing music fill your soul when you are alone, but fill you with fear when others are listening? Do you want to dance or speak in public, but lose yourself in front of an audience? Are you ashamed to show your deepest self, or worry what others might think if you truly expressed what is inside you?

The symptoms of stage fright — fear, anxiety, blankness, forgetfulness, sweating, inner criticism, shaking fingers, beating heart, etc. — can turn your favorite music into misery. But if you explore and unfold them with curiosity and love, these same “problems” can lead you to your deepest creativity, your most authentic expression, and your most poignant musicality.

The ideas on this page can be used with any kind of performance, from public speaking to playing concerts, from auditioning to job interviews.



This short video gives a vivid and powerful example of my work with an opera singer who had stopped performing due to stage fright.

We could look for the cause of stage fright, and try to get rid of it, like a doctor. We could try to do relaxation exercises to combat the stage fright. These are great methods, and worth trying to see if they work for you. Process Work and Unintentional Music approach stage fright from a different angle. What is the stage fright trying to teach us about our music, our expression and our performance? Where is it trying to lead us?

Here are short descriptions of three of the ways I approach stage fright in workshops and private sessions. I’ve used these methods with children and adults of all ages. These tools have been helpful to musicians, performers, public speakers, teachers, job applicants, and people who are scared to open their mouths in public or stand up in front of a group.


Unfolding The Physical Manifestations Of Stage Fright.

Stage fright is often an intensely physical experience. In order to unfold your unique experience of stage fright, it can be helpful to ask, “How do I know I have stage fright? How do I experience it?” For the purpose of this exercise, it’s helpful to focus on the physical manifestations of stage fright. Then become the problem, acting like the thing that plagues you. This sounds strange, but it is amazing how people beam with joy when they are no longer the victim of this energy, but instead can play with it. Be the beating heart, or the adrenaline pumping through your blood. This might unfold into some kind of mythical figure. That figure or those movements or sounds have an energy that you need! Learn to use it in your performance, your creativity, and your life. (This was the method employed in the video of “The Singing Ogre.”)


Using Fear As A Compass To Point The Way To Freedom:

Stage fright is often experienced as fear. Often the things we fear hold great power. If you can lean into the scary place, you can free up marginalized energies. In this exercise, it can be helpful to ask, “What am I afraid of? What would be the worst thing that could happen?” Then, at a safe time and in a safe place (not during your performance or job interview!), let yourself do this terrifying thing. Make mistakes. Forget the notes or the words. Let your voice crack. Be the thing the audience would hate. Then have fun with it, exaggerating the problem until you find something beautiful about the energy. People often discover a new way of living, a new way of dealing with performance and audiences, a new way of creating and expressing.


Discovering And Using The Energy Of The Feared Audience:

Some people are terrified of the audience. Again, there may be something you need that is locked up in that fear. In this exercise, fantasize about the worst audience/critic you can imagine. And then become it! There are two ways (at least) that this could go. One possibility is to have an inner interaction with this critic, learning about its goals. Criticize the critic until it helps you meet those goals. The other possibility is to take over the energy of the critic (like in the exercise above). Drop the content of the criticism and play with this energy until you find something great about it. Let this new energy play! How would this energy deal with the critic? How would the energy deal with stage fright?


I’ll be teaching a workshop in Berlin about Unintentional Music and Stage Fright on April 29 – May 1, 2016. Click here for more info.