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  • Mark Brafield

Stage fright

In an article in The Times on 23 April 2020, the actress Olivia Colman revealed that she has used hypnotherapy to overcome her stage fright. The article went on to list a number of other well-known actors who had also suffered from this debilitating condition which, indeed, seems endemic to the profession. In 1976 Ian Holm was performing in The Iceman Cometh when he completely froze. He walked off the stage mid-performance, not to return for another 8 years. Alison Steadman admitted last year that stage fright had ended her career in the theatre and famously, Daniel Day-Lewis walked off stage halfway through performing Hamlet at the National Theatre in 1989.

Strangely enough, it was stage fright that brought me to my first experience of hypnotherapy, when I suffered a series of debilitating panic attacks when performing as a musician. I consulted a hypnotherapist with a degree of scepticism but could not deny the effectiveness of the treatment. As a performer, I have never lost my nerves - old timers say that the day you lose your nerves is the day you should pack it in - but my attitude to them changed. Instead of being demons plaguing me inside my head, I was able to accept them and even laugh at them, like old friends teasing me. A few weeks later I had a big performance, in Ely Cathedral. I walked into the vast space the day before to rehearse. I knew that I would be nervous, but deep inside, there was a new, confident reassuring voice that said, 'that's OK. You are better than your nerves. You can do this'. And that voice was right.

There are lots of ways to conquer stage fright, and most of them involve a change of attitude. Realising that the audience is actually just made up of individuals who are on your side helps, likewise realising that in 10,000 years, none of this will even be here, and finally realising that stage fright disguises a certain degree of arrogance. One great musician said that if we only considered what a great privilege it was to perform these masterpieces that have come down to us, instead of worrying about ourselves, then we would never have a trace of nerves again.

That is aiming pretty high, but it is good to know that there are lots of simple, helpful strategies that can help performers come to terms and work with these fears, even if they never completely go away, and hypnotherapy is a very good place to start.

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