How to Handle Your Nerves

Nervousness, or stage fright as it's sometimes called can get the better of us if we allow it to, causing us to forget our lines, be distracted by other thoughts, or lose confidence. You know the signs. Heart pounding. Hands trembling. Knees knocking. Voice wavering.

Paul hates being nervous for a theatrical reason. To Paul, the audience is like a pack of animals. As such, he thinks they have a heightened awareness, a kind of mob instinct. As science has shown us, if we are nervous we emanate a different smell! Paul thinks an audience is aware of your fear. Instinctively, they start to worry for you, and as such your entertainment level is lessened.

Paul says he used to be quite nervous at the beginning of his career. As an amateur magician in Hong Kong, on one occasion he went to back palm a coin, and to his horror, when he looked at his hand it was shaking badly! To cover this, he immediately moved the coin from hand to hand, took a long slow deep breath to steady himself, and he continued with the trick.

As the years went by, and Paul worked his way through club land, he noticed that whenever he slowed down his breathing rate, he gave a steady, relaxed performance. That isn't to say that the performance wasn't dynamic, it was. We mean that Paul was in control.

Over the years Paul has arrived at what he believes to be the truth about this subject - that nervousness about performing comes about mostly from conceit.

To explain, perhaps unconsciously you believe that you are so wonderful that what you are about to do is of major importance in the grand scheme of things. What dawned on Paul was that tomorrow, the Prime Minister would still be in power, the President of America would still believe he ruled the world, and the major forces that drive the world along would not be thrown into disarray if he dropped a pack of cards!

Let's face it, what we are doing in the entertainment profession is a mere frippery, a passing shadow, but for you and I especially, it should also be fun, fun, fun! In our society, nobody FORCES you to go on stage, you CHOOSE to perform, you WANT to perform, you ENJOY performing.

If it does all go wrong (as it will do very occasionally), in a couple of nights time you will be the only one that remembers it, so stop worrying about it. Make sure you really know what you are doing every time you perform. Never under rehearse, never under analyse, and just get up there and have a good time!

Paul was backstage once with the great Judy Garland, and she, along with her crew did something that Paul still does from time to time, particularly after a long journey when he needs 'picking up' to go on stage. Other people might think that you are growing crazy or having a fit, but trust us on this one, it works!

You start to breathe very deep and fast, you pump your arms up and down, jumping up and down, faster and faster in the last few seconds as you are being introduced. Just as your name is announced, you blow it all out, with a huge relief, and walk on. You will find by then that your body is 'up for it.' This high speed 'pumping up' energises your whole performance, and the herd that is the audience can really feel the power that you emanate.

Of course, there are occasions when despite your normal confidence, you do get nervous. There were a couple of occasions where the circumstances got the better of Paul, leading him to be very nervous.

The first was at the opening night of what turned out to be a 14 month run of his West End Theatre show in London. Paul suddenly realised that if his part of the show didn't go well, many people would be out of work, and he had to really control his emotions at the start of the show in order to carry on.

The second time was some years later, when Paul was closing the Royal Variety Show, singing a song from Barnum, whilst performing illusions at the same time. He suddenly realised that many other well known singers had been miming, and that he was about to sing live and perform magic at the same time! As Paul comments, "if I had that feeling every night, I would never go on again. However, I realised of course that audiences don't pay me to be nervous or trembling, they pay me to be entertaining!"

There are some actors, and others in show business who believe that nerves give them an edge, and that might work for you too. But if you find yourself becoming a nervous wreck, or even worse - take to drink to get out there, remember what Paul says - it's only fun, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter! Have fun!

On a practical note, we'll now look at some specific preventative measures, as well as how to deal with nervousness when you are forced to, such as when something goes wrong. This is a bit like a Doctor's approach to your health. Ideally a good Doctor wants to get to the root cause of the problem, but they may need to treat the symptoms too!

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