How Can I Get Involved With Theatre If I Have Stage Fright?
Speaking or performing in front of an audience is often a scary experience, no matter how old you are. There’s a reason why public speaking is a commonly cited fear even among adults. Acting in a dramatic performance can be even more difficult, and if you’re one of the many high school students who experience stage fright, the idea of getting involved in theatre might be very off-putting.
At the same time, many young people dream of becoming actors. Performances on stage and screen dominate our entertainment culture, draw our interest, and even get stuck in our heads for days on end. Even those who are fearful about actually performing in front of an audience might be interested in drama club or other theatrical pursuits.
Theatre isn’t just an attractive option— it’s also one that comes with certain noticeable benefits, even or especially if you’re on the shy end of the spectrum. As a high school student, you’re at an age where presentation skills and confidence are becoming increasingly important to your development and future plans, and theatre can help you to actively develop these skills.
In this post, we’ll go over various ways to get involved in theatre, how to build your performance skills even if you’re afraid of being on stage, and how theatre can actually help you to become a more confident and skillful public speaker, presenter, and performer.
Pursuing theatre in the face of stage fright
There are a number of different reasons why you might want to get involved with theatre. You might have fond memories of singing along to your favorite musical as a kid, or of playing the lead in an elementary school play years ago. Whatever the case, theatre is an extracurricular choice that comes with a lot of benefits.
First of all, it’s a commonly available activity that a lot of high school students enjoy, and that also generally represents a substantial commitment to a long-term project. If you list theatre-related activities like drama club on your college applications, admissions officers will understand that you’ve dedicated substantial time and effort to those activities.
Theatre can also be a great way to meet people with similar interests and form friendships. Long rehearsals and the cooperative nature of theatre create a lot of opportunities to bond with your fellow cast and crew members and develop a sense of community.
Another significant benefit of theatre involvement is its effect on your performance skills. Your ability to present yourself well in front of an audience will be valuable to you for years to come. Getting involved in theatre can help you to get more comfortable with public speaking and performance, which are essential skills in college and also in the workplace.
Stage fright might be particularly severe if you’re already a shy or introverted person by nature, something that’s far from uncommon, and that we’ve addressed in the past on the CollegeVine blog. Our Introvert’s Guide to Networking includes tips that shy students may find useful in reaching out and finding new opportunities. For some advice particularly aimed at parents, take a look at our post How Can I Help My Shy Child Put Themselves Out There in High School?
As we’ve said in past posts, there’s nothing wrong with being shy or introverted, but lacking confidence or being uncomfortable with certain interpersonal interactions can present significant challenges in the college application process and beyond. If you’re in this position, it’s worth looking into ways you can work to alleviate this discomfort.
While some careers and life paths will involve fewer public presentations or performances than others, it’s wise to assume that no matter where you go in life, you’ll occasionally have to stand in front of an audience and convey a message. Getting involved in theatre and working on your stage fright can help you build your confidence and learn to present yourself in a more poised and mature way in public settings.
Finding theatre options in high school
If you’ve decided that an extracurricular activity involving theatre might be enjoyable and/or helpful for you, the first step to getting started is finding a theatre group, program, or class that you can join. Theatre is by nature a group activity, and getting feedback from coaches, peers, and other advisors is an essential part of developing your skills.
Drama clubs and classes are common at high schools, but they may not be your only option, and other opportunities may be a better fit for you. Here are a few places where you may find chances to get involved in theatre while you’re in high school.
High school drama clubs
It’s fairly likely that your high school already has at least one theatre-related extracurricular, such as a drama club, musical theatre group, or one-act play festival organization. Drama clubs typically put on a few performances each year. You’ll need to commit to regular meetings and practices, as well as an intense period of more frequent rehearsals in the week or two before each production.
This is the most convenient option for many students interested in theatre—a club at your school will be more likely to mesh well with your academic schedule, and you won’t need to travel to a different location. The other participants will be your peers and perhaps even your friends, so you may feel more comfortable around them.
Community theatre programs
Many cities and towns have arts groups that put on performances on a local level. Your options will depend upon where you live—larger cities and particularly artsy locales may be more likely to have active community arts programs.
Some community theatre programs are specifically aimed at children and teenagers, and put on productions that are appropriate to a wide range of ages. Others may be open to all ages, or limited to older teenagers and adults. Each approach has its pros and cons, so you’ll need to think about what format would be most comfortable to you.
To find out about community theatre programs, you might check a local newspaper or news website, the bulletin board at your local library or coffee shop, the marquee outside a local theatre building, or anywhere else where people gather. Don’t be afraid to ask around—your guidance counselor or a parent with older children might also have suggestions based on their experience.
Theatre classes and camps
If you’re interested in a more structured approach to learning the craft of theatre, a class or summer program might be a good fit for you. These programs may or may not actually involve performing in public, but either way, they’ll help you concentrate on learning the skills you need to pursue other theatre activities.
Some high schools offer drama classes for academic credit, which might be grouped within the English department or a performing arts department. Community organizations and acting studios near you may present other options at a range of different price points and commitment levels.
If you’re interested in totally immersing yourself in theatre, you might consider an intensive summer program. As we’ve discussed in our post Summer Programs for Prospective Theatre Majors, these programs, which could last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, allow you to focus entirely on theatre activities without having to also deal with the demands of the normal school year.
Working behind the scenes
Acting isn’t the only way to get involved with theatre. If you’re interested in theatre, but not yet ready to take the stage yourself, you might consider the other ways that you can help the show go on. A theatrical production involves a team far larger than the small group of actors that you see onstage, and those less visible roles are equally vital to a successful performance.
Before a dramatic production can take place, someone needs to design and build the sets, obtain and organize props, and choose or create costumes. A director is needed to plan out the performance and tell the actors what to do. In some drama programs, you might even be given the chance to start at the very beginning and actually write your own play.
During a performance, while the actors onstage focus on acting, others run the lighting and sound equipment, move scenery when the curtain goes down, and help the actors get where they need to be. Still others might record the performance on video, play instruments in the pit orchestra, or spearhead fundraising efforts to support the group.
Administrative tasks like reserving practice and performance spaces, managing a group’s finances, and creating advertisements may not be as glamorous as being a leading actor, but they have to be done. Your drama coach or group advisor may take on some of these roles, but if not, they offer additional opportunities for you to do work that makes a difference.
Taking on supporting roles will give you valuable experience in the world of theatre, help you to build relationships with your fellow participants, and allow you to exercise your skills in ways that contribute to a larger goal. Gaining a deeper understanding of how a stage production works might even make you a better actor if you eventually decide to give it a try.
Given that these behind-the-scenes positions are so much less visible than those of the actors, you may be worried about whether these roles will reflect well on you when it comes time to apply to colleges. The answer is that, as with most other activities, what’s most important is that you show dedication, skill, and responsibility in whatever you choose to do.
Being a stagehand, director, or other backstage figure comes with important responsibilities and a set of special skills, and colleges know that these positions require hard work and an interest in theatre that matches any actor’s. As long as you present your involvement well on your application and highlight how it’s contributed to your learning and development, you have nothing to worry about.
Getting onstage: starting small
Some people who are interested in theatre find a place in the stage crew, or in some other off-stage position, to be a rewarding way to contribute to a theatre program. Others, however, may really feel like they want to be on stage, participating in the performance in a more public and visible way.
If you’re one of those who would prefer that your theatre involvement specifically involves acting, but you suffer from stage fright, it can be hard to get up the courage to actively pursue your interest. However, it’s definitely not impossible. A motivated and hardworking student can often get past their shyness enough to reap some of the benefits of the performing arts.
One important thing to know is that you can take on smaller, less demanding roles before even considering the more important ones. In fact, you have to take on these small roles first. That’s the only way you’ll be able to develop your acting skills, understand the ways in which you need to improve, and get more comfortable being onstage.
What type of roles are available to you will depend upon what kind of theatre program you become involved with. In a musical theatre production, you might be able to dance and sing as part of the chorus instead of playing a more noticeable singular role. Most other plays also involve some kind of small role with few to no lines to memorize.
Another factor to consider is the organizational culture of whatever theatre group or program you’re interested in joining. In some groups, vying for coveted roles may be quite intense. Other groups may be more focused on working together and having fun with like-minded peers, without so much competitiveness.
It’s important to realize that in theatre, as with any other activity, everyone is a beginner at some point. While some of your fellow high school student may have been acting from a young age, you’ll find many others who, just like you, are only getting started. Drama clubs and other theatre programs, especially those aimed at beginners, will understand, and will help you figure out where to start.
No one expects you to be an immediate star, and you shouldn’t expect that of yourself either. As you gain more experience onstage, you’ll also develop your acting skills and improve your confidence, paving the way for you to successfully take on more substantial roles later on—and take advantage of all the great benefits that getting involved in theatre has to offer.
Are you a high school student with an interest in theatre, who isn’t sure what steps to take next? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.