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Dealing With Stage Fright by Conditioning Your Audience

Don’t get me wrong. A little bit of nervousness before you are about to perform, is exactly what you need. It stops you getting too confident, and makes sure that your mind is actually focussed on the performance rather than another topic altogether. It may spur you on to read over your performance notes one last time, which might help you to remember your routine. This article is about Stage Fright while Juggling, which is a whole different ball game (pun intended!)
Let’s start with a quick look at what Stage Fright is, and then we can deal with how to overcome the issues likely to cause you the most concern as a performer.

“What is Stage Fright?”

Like most phobias, stage fright is perfectly normal and is a natural response to situations that are perceived to be dangerous or somehow detrimental. It is a release of adrenalin, which is usually associated with the fight or flight reaction. In other words, you want to be anywhere else but on stage at this moment in time! When your body feels like it is in a stressful situation, then it takes on a whole set of different characteristics, none of which are useful for a performer. This includes involuntary shaking, your blood glucose level rising, the pupils in your eyes dilating, and your heart-rate increasing.
The best thing you can do right now (go on, grab a bit of paper and a pen), is write down the things that you are worried about either as you are about to go on stage, or when you are on stage. Hopefully, the rest of the article will deal with most of these issues, but let me know if there are any others you can think of!

“Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”

Before you can condition the audience, you need to make sure you are in the right frame of mind. The thing that I am concerned about the most in regards to any performance is actually getting there in plenty of time! If I arrive in enough time, and have had time to speak to the organisers, and set up my props and test the radio mic works and plug in my IPod, and have a quick practice, then I feel in control, and it is time to turn my attentions to getting the audience on my side and enjoying my show!
The audience want you to succeed. As a performer, your main tool is to be able to control the audience, so that whatever happens on stage is dealt with in a confident way. Let’s deal with the most common fears that you are likely to experience when you are about to step in front of an audience:

“What if I drop?”

If you get really nervous, then this might lead to visible shaking. This isn’t a good situation for anyone about to do an activity on stage if they want to avoid making mistakes! Firstly, you should only be attempting tricks in your routines that you have practiced, and that you are certain that only on a very bad day would lead to dropping several attempts in a row. If you know that every trick in your show is easily within your capabilities, then you shouldn’t be quite as nervous as if you have slotted in some tricks that work just some of the time!
I have a routine that is among the first I perform with on most shows. I let the audience know that if they see me drop or make a mistake during the show, then they are allowed to point and laugh at me (the action can be changed to “applaud quietly” or “shout some words of encouragement” if you really prefer, but the idea is exactly the same). By telling the audience to do a certain action, it means that when you do make a drop, the audience are simply following your instructions and know how to react. You can play about with this routine and have fun with the audience. Try a practice drop (where you kick the prop up at the last second so it doesn’t touch the ground), and I am sure you could put your own spin and spiel on such a routine, but the upshot is that when you have conditioned an audience for such a tense situation as a drop, and rehearsed them, then you have diffused the situation and they will respond exactly as you have instructed them to. This puts you in total control which should help get rid of your nervousness as dropping is now permitted! By all means, try the trick another couple of times, but then move on whether or not you achieve the trick. The idea is to entertain the audience, and they will still feel involved in your routine even if you drop a few times. I sometimes deliberately drop during my other routines just to check everyone is still paying attention (or at least that’s what I tell the audience!)

Learning some drop-lines is also useful, as long as they fit in with the routines you are doing (eg not during a musical routine when a clever recovery kickup trick would be better). A google search will provide you with many examples, but please put your own spin on them and adapt for your type of audience rather than just picking one at random and hoping it works!

The following video clip is an example of embracing failure. When my diabolo skip catch finale goes wrong on the first attempt, I am able to use humour and keep the audience on side so that they are actively willing me to succeed, and the trick gets a much bigger applause than it would have done had I got it right the first time!


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If you find that you make way too many mistakes due to nervousness on stage, even if the routines work perfectly in rehearsal every time, then perhaps you may be best to develop more of a clowning character who enjoys the mistakes when they happen. You can use this character until you feel a bit more confident and have some more performances under your belt.

“What if I make a mistake during a musical routine?”

If you work to music, then unless you have a very technical precise routine, allow some space in your choreography for making mistakes, and practice performing your routine the whole way through, even when you make a mistake. This may lead to you discovering some good recovery tricks which could even make it look like you meant to drop in the first place! Every beat of the song shouldn’t result in a different tricky move, as this will lead to you making a mistake and then trying to juggle twice as fast to catch up! Mistakes can happen at any time during any song, but if you look relaxed up on stage and have practiced making mistakes and recovering from them, then the audience will feel at ease when it happens during the show, because you look at ease also.

You may find another of my articles useful – how to recover from dropping.

“What if I don’t get any applause?”

The audience want you to succeed. It’s not in their interest to be watching a show that they aren’t interested in, so when you step out on stage, they are looking for the best times to give some applause. The main mistake that some performers make is not giving any applause points during routines! If there are certain tricks you do that should deserve an applause, then make sure you stop and take a bow or say something to such an effect to let the audience know. If you have just performed to a piece of music, then take a bow when the music finishes. If you constantly rush from one routine to another, and don’t give a seconds pause, then the audience will never know which space you would like them to applaud into, and you may wrongly assume that they aren’t enjoying the show!
If you have an audience that doesn’t want to respond with applause, laughter or interact with you, then the best idea is to come up with some routines that will help them to loosen up and want to get involved. Getting a volunteer up on stage isn’t the answer if they aren’t responding, but playing a game with the audience, or getting them all to do something together will help them bond as a group and ensure that the rest of your show will have a greater response!
If the audience doesn’t want to applaud, even after you have inserted some appropriate applause points, you may be able to get them to loosen up with the following bounce ball routine. Ask the audience to put their hands together every time a bounce ball touches the ground. If you are a bounce juggler, you may wish to then do a quick 3 ball bounce routine. Speed up the routine as fast as you can, and then drop the balls and let them stop by themselves. The bounces will of course increase in frequency, and the clapping will get quicker and louder, and the audience will suddenly realise that they have been duped into giving you some applause! Point this out to them, and if there is ever a lull in their concentration, they can always be brought back to life, by dropping one bounce ball and letting it fizzle out!

“What if the audience don’t laugh at any of my jokes?”

If the audience aren’t laughing at any of your jokes, then you might find that replacing the “put your hands together” routine (see above paragraph) with saying the word “Ha” will suddenly find them all laughing, at which point they will experience real laughter as they realise that they have been tricked, and you will have created a less tense atmosphere! This routine certainly beats having to write brand new material on the spot! See video clip below for an example of this routine using “ha”.

Usually if you can acknowledge (in a humourous way) that your jokes aren’t getting any laughter, it may prompt some laughter. If you can make plenty of fun at yourself, and show the audience that you are a likeable person, then usually once you get one laugh, more plenty more will follow! Sometimes there can be what’s called “an elephant in the room”. Usually it’s something to do with your own appearance (I am bald for instance, so usually poking fun at this trait will show that I am comfortable with my own look).

Bonus tip – “How do I get a standing ovation?”

Once you have been performing for a while and can now put on at least a 10 minute routine, then there is even a technique for making sure you get a standing ovation! This will only work if the audience clearly enjoyed the show and you have established a good rapport with them, but simply drop the words “standing ovation” into some of your other routines. Keep mentioning subtly that you can’t wait for the standing ovation at the end of the show etc, and this idea will slowly plant itself in people’s minds, so that they are more likely to either start an ovation or join in one! The great thing is that if you have planted this idea subtly in people’s head, then they will forget that you had suggested it to them, and strongly believe that your show was so good that everyone gave it a standing ovation!

I still get nervous before I go on stage, but at least I have a few routines in my bag which can be highly entertaining that will ensure that I am in complete control even if I make some mistakes! Armed with this knowledge, I can be much more relaxed, and adapt to whatever happens, and as a result of this, everyone enjoys the performance.

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