MT in the City: Performance Panic and Paranoia

Picture this scenario: You discover a new musical theater piece that you’re obsessed with and decide to start working on it for an upcoming audition/performance. The song is absolutely perfect for your voice and completely applicable to your life. Basically, you feel like you were made to sing this piece and you can’t wait to perform it. Finally, the day of the audition/performance arrives. Now, instead of feeling confident in your abilities and excited to perform, you are overcome with a feeling of intense performance anxiety. All of your insecurities begin to bubble to the surface and you have no idea how to relax and focus. How can you possibly push past this feeling and perform to the best of your abilities?

Does this situation sound familiar? I know it does for me. It is easy to let nerves and anxiety get in the way of performing to the best of our abilities. If you feel this way, just know that you are not alone! Some of the most well-known and well-respected Broadway stars struggle with performance anxiety as well:

  1. Audra McDonald: In our eyes, Audra is the epitome of musical theater perfection. She is a goddess and the person who we all strive to be. But don’t be fooled. Audra has battled with nerves and performance anxiety just like the rest of us. She attended Julliard for opera, but she always knew deep down that she was meant to study musical theater. Because of this, she began to get extremely stressed and ultimately had a breakdown as a result of her anxiety. Once she graduated Julliard and began to get Broadway roles, however, the anxiety didn’t go away. She developed a fainting problem that stemmed from a high level of nerves. Despite her constant battle with nervous energy and anxiety, we can all see that Audra is a huge success in the musical theater world because she refused to let the stress negatively affect her.
  1. Barbra Streisand: As musical theater junkies, we look to Barbra as an inspiration and role model. When I think of musical theater, “Barbra Streisand” is a name that immediately comes to mind. Despite her immense success as a performer, Streisand regularly deals with stage fright. In 1967, she forgot the lyrics during a concert in Central Park and has ever since used a teleprompter in performances as an attempt to avoid similar problems in the future. She also takes anti-anxiety medication in order to keep her nerves at bay.
  1. Cher Bono: I know we don’t necessarily think of Cher as being part of the musical theater world, but she has had a successful career in the music industry and performed on Broadway in the 1980s. She will always be a legend in the world of music. And guess what? She has also experienced nerves and performance anxiety throughout her career. As a child, she struggled with dyslexia, which left her feeling shy and unworthy. These feelings carried over to her musical career as well. However, she was able to overcome her insecurities and step into her role as a truly unforgettable performer.

I hope it was comforting to see that successful Broadway performers also struggle with nerves and anxiety on a regular basis. For some, these performance-related nerves will diminish over time, and for others, the nerves will stay with you for the remainder of your performance career. Personally, I have battled performance anxiety for my whole life. I have been performing for over 10 years and still get nervous every time I have to sing in front of an audience. During the past few months of attending school in New York, I have found ways to cope with my performance anxiety and use it in a more positive way. So, if performance anxiety is affecting you, I encourage you to keep performing as much as possible. Observe your nervous habits and see if you can channel your nervous energy in a more productive way. In fact, channel your inner Audra McDonald or Barbra Streisand and be the Broadway diva you were meant to be without allowing nerves to get in your way.

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