Sunday, March 21, 2010

Can you ever prepare yourself for being in front of a live audience?

What is it about a live audience that throws a spanner in the works?

scared face

scared face by Kim

You’ve prepared thoroughly, you’re really looking forward to the performance, you know all your words and moves inside out, you’ve done it hundreds of times before, but as soon as you step out on stage ... something weird happens.

you can’t fake a live audience

There is no substitute for being in front of a real, live audience. You can do as much as you can to put people on the spot in rehearsal or try to ramp up the stakes, but it’s never quite the same.

You can’t predict how someone will behave in front of an audience. The coolest, most prepared person might be the one who crumbles the most. Whereas the little mouse who is reserved and always stands at the back might not be phased at all.

stage fright

Liz Garnett on Helping You Harmonise has written recently about Managing stage fright. This resulted from

“a discussion about how to help our singers go into performances calmly and confidently and be happy that they can deliver their best to their audiences.”

She covers three main themes:

  1. Structure and the fear of the unknown that can throw people.
  2. Director behaviour and how it can affect the singers.
  3. Mindset: inner focus on our fears vs. outer focus on what we’re doing.

But even if you have a clear and well-rehearsed structure, your director is cool, calm and collected, and you are totally focused on the job in hand, it can still go horribly wrong.

audiences are unpredictable

No matter how calm and focused we are, it doesn’t take much to wake our inner demons. The way an audience responds can do this instantly.

Maybe the front row looks a little bored; perhaps you expected them to clap a bit louder than they did; maybe there’s a lot of coughing in the auditorium.

It can be a tiny thing, but it’s enough to knock you out of the moment and back into your ego-led world of doubt.

But it’s not just the behaviour of the audience. They can be the best, most appreciative audience in the world, but the very fact that they’re sitting there watching you changes things.

... and so are performers

You may have had a cracking rehearsal and everyone was firing on all cylinders. But now, in front of an audience, this particular song is just not going as well as it did before. You begin to have doubts, you slip out of the moment again, and the song starts to deteriorate even more.

When you come to the next song, it’s hard to wipe your memory of the last one, so you start off a bit hesitantly, expecting it not to go well, and indeed it doesn’t.

why the rehearsal room is different

What’s going on here? What’s different from when we did that amazing rehearsal?

The audience.

The audience changes everything. The stakes appear to be higher. Our egos don’t want to disappoint or make fools of ourselves. It’s somehow not enough to just sing the songs as well as we can, we need to prove something.

In the rehearsal room it doesn’t matter. Yes, we are trying our hardest, but if it all goes wrong, then we can just try again, nothing lost.

In the rehearsal room everyone is our friend. We’re not being judged since everyone’s in the same boat.

can we do anything about it?


In my opinion there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for being in front of an audience. It is impossible to duplicate the circumstances in rehearsal.

All you can do is make sure you are fully prepared and try not to have any expectations. You will do your best under the given circumstances and how the audience respond is out of your control.

If last night’s performance went brilliantly, you have to forget it.

If the last time you played this venue it all went horribly wrong, you have to forget it.

You have to cultivate what Zen calls a beginner’s mind. Each time you do something, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, you approach it as if it were the first time.

You set off to the performance with no expectations so everything is possible. Which is the scary, but exciting part!

how was it for you?

Do you have any horror stories to relate? What happens to you when you step out on stage? Have you discovered a way of preparing yourself for facing an audience? Do leave a comment and share your experiences.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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