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Conquering Audition and Performance Anxiety: A Proven Approach with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy



Introduction

Auditioning for musical theater can be an overwhelming experience, even for the most seasoned performers. The pressure to impress directors, fierce competition, and the high stakes can lead to significant anxiety. As a clinical psychologist and a former professional musical theater performer, I understand these challenges deeply. Through my dissertation research, I explored how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can effectively manage audition anxiety in musical theater performers. This blog post aims to share my findings and recommend ACT as a viable treatment for those struggling with audition anxiety.


Understanding Audition Anxiety and Performance Anxiety

Audition anxiety is a specific form of performance anxiety experienced by musical theater performers. It manifests through various symptoms, including physical (sweating, trembling), cognitive (negative thoughts, self-doubt), and behavioral (avoidance of auditions, making excuses). Musical theater performers face unique challenges due to the breadth of skills required (singing, acting, dancing) and the complex nature of auditions.


Focus Keywords:

  • Audition anxiety

  • Musical theater performers

  • ACT for Actors

  • Performance anxiety

  • Mindfulness


Summary of Findings


Feasibility and Acceptability: The study aimed to assess the feasibility and acceptability of an 8-week Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) protocol specifically tailored for musical theater performers experiencing audition anxiety. Participants were recruited through Playbill.com and Instagram, and 21 performers enrolled, with 16 completing the study. The high completion rate (76%) indicated that the treatment was feasible and acceptable to participants.


Treatment Structure: The treatment consisted of eight weekly two-hour group sessions held in a studio equipped with a piano in Times Square. Each session included a mindfulness exercise, homework review, didactic learning, and experiential components like interoceptive exposure and mock auditions. Mindfulness exercises adapted from existing social anxiety treatments were a core part of each session.


Session Themes: The sessions covered various themes, including:

  • Mindfulness Practices: Exercises like mindful eating, body scans, and mindful stretching were used to help participants become more aware of their physical and emotional states.

  • Acceptance and Willingness: Techniques to accept anxiety rather than fight it, such as the "willingness switch" and interoceptive exposure, helped participants manage their anxiety during auditions.

  • Cognitive Defusion: Strategies to change the relationship with their thoughts, using techniques like labeling and distancing from anxious thoughts.

  • Mock Auditions: Practical exercises to simulate real audition scenarios, allowing participants to apply the techniques learned in a supportive environment.


Outcomes: Participants reported decreased levels of audition and performance anxiety, increased mindfulness, and greater acceptance of their anxiety symptoms. Additionally, there was a noted decrease in avoidance behaviors and an increase in audition attendance. The study's findings suggest that ACT can be an effective treatment for audition anxiety, providing performers with tools to manage their anxiety and improve their audition performance.


Conclusion and Recommendations

As a clinical psychologist, I can confidently say that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a promising solution for managing audition anxiety. The high feasibility and acceptability of the 8-week group therapy sessions, as demonstrated in my study, indicate that this treatment can be a practical approach for musical theater performers. I also have begun offering this treatment as part of individual therapy. By incorporating mindfulness, acceptance, and experiential learning, performers can develop effective strategies to manage their anxiety and excel in auditions.

If you are a musical theater performer struggling with audition anxiety, consider exploring ACT as a treatment option. The techniques and strategies developed through this therapy can help you accept and manage your anxiety, allowing you to perform at your best during auditions. For a more in-depth exploration of these strategies and findings, refer to the detailed research presented in my dissertation available on ProQuest.


References

Jacobs, M. (2019). ACT for Actors: Testing the Feasibility and Acceptability of a Group Protocol Intended to Treat Audition Anxiety in Musical Theater Performers. Hofstra University.

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