Beta Blockers

 

BETA BLOCKERS:the ultimate solution
for audition anxiety & stage fright.

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I work a lot with talented, strong, experienced actors who still, from time to time, are debilitated by audition anxiety. & I have a variety of techniques I use that often have been successful in helping the actor channel the excess energy rattling his angst-ridden instrument in service of his character's internal world & psyche. But mastery of the audition experience is for some a career-long struggle. Not everyone wins. Many talented people who could have had big careers, don't, for this reason alone.

Here are some of the "organic" tools I use to address this when working with actors.

  • Accept & embrace physiological changes in the body -- not trying to get rid of the adrenaline coursing through you, but welcoming as evidence of the energy & force of your talent, your desire for the work, your passion for the role. Once you stop trying to rid yourself of it, once you stop the deep breaths & the pretense of being calm & the denial of reality, you can then convert it the excess energy for use in service of the character.
     
  • Focus on the WHY -- the reason you personally need & want to say the words & play the role (which is NOT about, "I need to get this job" & is about "I need & want to play the love scene with my ex that I never got to play in real life...") The more you strengthen your need to express something of vital importance to you (or,] to have the experience of being silly, grand, powerful, whatever) the more these great big needs of yours dwarf the other thing that are going on -- i.e. the audition.
    &
    I feel compelled to say here: you are allowed to want the job, to want to get props from your agent, to want to make money, to want to get ahead in your career. You are allowed to fantasize about getting the job!
    But I ask only this:
    As much as you fantasize about all that is exciting about GETTING the job, also fantasize about playing the role, about the experience you want to have with the part, with what you want to SAY with the part. Fantasize about that even more than the goodies that come from GETTING the job. Don't let your career "WANTS" be bigger than your artistic "WANTS" -- you, the artist, want the job BECAUSE you want / need / live to / were born to / talk about things that are matter to you, you want to tell stories, you want to let loose with love & anger & silliness & sexuality & all the things that maybe you can't in real life. You want to reveal yourself, you want to share your pain & share what you know about life. As well as have a big career doing so. You are allowed to have all of it, but let your ARTIST wants & needs tip the scale over your desire to get the job.
     
  • Visualize & articulate the experience you want to have in the audition. Extend that sensation of being present, focused & aware in a heightened way to other areas of your life as well as the audition. You're not going to run a marathon if you haven't exercised every day & you're not going to be present, calm & masterful in the audition if you're running around your daily life with a lack of focus & generalized anxiety.

Lots of times these techniques really work well. & it's thrilling & gratifying when it does, when I can help an actor gain confidence & sureness about the most difficult & thorny aspect of the work we do.

Still. I'm coming to respect that many of us, no matter what, just flat-out produce way too much "flight or flight" adrenaline for situations that really don't call for it -- the audition being one of these. Maybe it's a holdover from childhood experiences, or maybe it's the case of a feedback loop from one horrendous audition experience creating a runaway train. No matter. Sometimes (& fyi, this was my experience as well) the only truly viable way out, around, above & through it comes by changing the body chemistry. & that can happen quite easily & safely in the form of a little pill called a beta-blocker.

As a coach, when I see someone is in trouble, I don't usually lead with this. Why?

a) A good deal of "method" work, much of which I'm in agreement with, deals with managing the "heat of their presence" -- "they" being those people or objects (the camera) which are focused on your performance. The techniques that help cool down the actor's perception of "heat" also help build strong, sturdy muscles for concentration & truth-telling.

b) Lots of people (esp. men!) resist this solution, they don't like the idea of "drugs", they want to handle the problem themselves. A pill seems like "a cheat."
I suggest it, but they don't want it. I respect that, too.

c) I really don't want to be known as the drug-pushing acting coach. Though of course, I don't sell beta-blockers; I recommend people ask their doctors about them. Still, there's a sort of stigma attached. Sigh. & not that there should be! Somehow, though . . . needing help via medicine is still hard for some of us to swallow.

But, when I can no longer endure the excruciating pain actors bring into the room: being unable to do the work they know they can do, being unable to realize their potential because of this agonizing disability; racing hearts, sweating, trembling hands, brain fogs & forgetting lines & abject humiliation (just FYI -- it's never really as bad as you think it is.) -- When this has gone on long enough & The Workroom is brimming with so much of it that getting on with the work is out of the question; then I break down & I bring up the BB word.

I'm still surprised how few people know about these drugs. They are generic, they cost practically nothing, they've been around forever, & they are some of the safest drugs on the market. Lots & lots of people use them: athletes, newscasters, public speakers, politicians, opera singers, etc. etc. There have been articles & books & there's even a new Amazon series that deals with the problem & the pill: Mozart In The Jungle

At first, actors think I'm talking about something like valium, which beta-blockers definitely are not. I'm not going to go into all the science. Suffice to say they do one thing only: they block your adrenaline receptors. You still produce adrenaline, but it's as if your system is unaware. Or barely aware. Most people still feel a little tingle of ... something ... (fun? positive energy?) But no more than that. No "down" feeling, no sedated feeling. You're just you, exactly as you always are, when the flight-or-fight (over-)response isn't highjacking your heart, nerves, brain, body.

I'm including here links to a bunch of articles to read, to see for yourself if this could be right for you. Lots actors I know say that using beta blockers saved their careers. (&, I'm sure many wonder why I didn't mention it sooner.) Here's the best thing: use of beta-blockers over time creates an odd feedback loop in your body so that you don't need to use the drug forever. It's a bit scientifically complicated as to why this is so, but read on below -- you'll get the gist.

If you do end up trying beta blockers for auditions or performance, I'd love for you to comment here. Or, if you don't want to own publically, email me privately. I promise to keep confidence.


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MORE ABOUT BETA-BLOCKERS & STAGE FRIGHT

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BETTER PLAYING THROUGH CHEMISTRY
Blair Tindall, October 4, 2004

A DRUG TO CURE FEAR
Richard Friedman, January 22, 2016

OVERCOMING A LIFETIME OF STAGE FRIGHT
by Sara Solovitch, May 30, 2019

IN DEFENSE OF THE BETA BLOCKER
Carl Elliot, August, 2008