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Why do students laugh on stage?

Have you heard the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine"?


It really is a great way to improve your health and a great way to lighten a situation. So how is this relevant to the Performing Arts? Well, sometimes students will laugh on stage while performing. So, I thought I'd discuss in this blog why students laugh on stage and how you can address it.




I don't think learners want to misbehave and sabotage their own learning. I believe there's always a reason behind it.

Let's start with...


What laughter does to the body and mind.


According to HelpGuide.org (2022), laughter has the following benefits:


Physical health benefits

  • Boosts immunity

  • Lowers stress hormones

  • Decreases pain

  • Relaxes your muscles

  • Prevents heart disease

Mental health benefits

  • Adds joy and zest to life

  • Eases anxiety and tension

  • Relieves stress

  • Improves mood

  • Strengthens resilience

Social benefits

  • Strengthens relationships

  • Attracts others to us

  • Enhances teamwork

  • Helps defuse conflict

  • Promotes group bonding


My experience with laughing on stage from a teacher's perspective:


When I was learning how to teach, I noticed female students (in particular) would laugh throughout their performances. At first glance, it looked like they were just mucking around. It made complete sense, so I used to growl them and say things like "I'm disappointed that you didn't take this assessment seriously".

But upon reflection, they laughed through a well-practiced performance. So, it was quite a contradiction. They practiced and that suggests to me that they did try during the rehearsal process. Yet when it came to the performance aspect of the assessment, things were different...


Now that I have had experience teaching and understand learners well, I am able to notice things. Therefore, if I notice that something doesn't add up or something isn't consistent, I will look further into it to find the source of the issue. I think it is very important to do this when teaching. I also believe in some cases discipline can been remedied if we look further into it first. I don't think learners want to misbehave and sabotage their own learning. I believe there's always a reason behind it.




Here's what I discovered ...



Self-esteem, nerves and trauma


Some people love pleasing others. They like making light of situations and fixing issues by making others feel better. Maybe this is you? It definitely is me. I have spent most of life taking care of others and making sure they are ok. I like to make people laugh and cheer them up with my weird humour.

Even in the media there is a common scenario that directors use where a person makes someone laugh to cheer them up when they are crying. They wipe away the tears and then feel better.


So, if you are one of these people, maybe you might do the same thing for yourself to self soothe. This is where the laughter on stage comes into play. Perhaps, students laugh on stage as a coping mechanism for experiencing an overwhelming amount of nerves, stress, triggering from trauma, and/or because of self-esteem issues?



Allow me to explain this further through a scenario...



Scenario:


I am standing in the wings ready to perform a scene with my friend. She is such a great performer, and I am really happy to be working with her on this assignment. I take a deep breath in and go to walk on stage, but I stop. I think about how much she is an amazing performer...if only I was like her. She's so pretty and she always receives excellences because of how amazing her acting is. I always forget my lines and I don't know, I'm just not like her. Her mum is in the audience, but mine isn't. Mum doesn't like me acting. She thinks it isn't a good career choice. I wish she would just tell me once that she liked seeing me act or that I was a great performer. I always ask her... I look over and see my friend waiting for me to come on stage. I shuffle onwards and hear her whisper words of encouragement before we begin. I feel butterflies in my stomach. The first few exchanges of lines go great, but I can't seem to shake the nerves. My whole body begins to feel like it is vibrating as the nerves become overwhelming. I begin to panic and look around the audience wondering if they can see me shake. I feel embarrassed and worried and now I cannot remember my next line. The vibrations in my body release out of my mouth and I start to laugh. My friend looks over at me and panics as well. She smiles nervously and between her teeth she asks me what I'm doing and why I'm laughing. I try to hold it in, but I feel like my whole body is crumbling with nerves. I laugh and laugh and laugh yet keep trying to act. I don't want to ruin this performance at all. If I keep going, the laughing might stop. Now my friend is laughing as well. Her laughter makes me feel a lot better and so I feel more courageous and finish this scene relieved that we said all of our lines. As we go to leave the stage, our teacher growls us. I no longer feel relieved. I feel embarrassed again. I feel like I mucked this scene up completely. I leave the stage feeling awful about what I did. Performing is the worst!



If you imagine this scenario occurs every time one of your students laugh on stage, when they are meant to be performing, then you may feel like they shouldn't be growled. But... the issue should be raised with them. Perhaps you might want to comfort them and reassure them that they don't need to feel this way because it is likely you are proud of them, and you want them to see what you see in them. So here is a way you can help the situation:









Remedies for laughing on stage:


1.) Acknowledge what has happened and let the class know that laughter is a response to nerves.


You could say, "I understand you are laughing because you were nervous. This can happen. I do the same thing. I'll teach you how to control the nerves and I'll help you stop laughing on stage. Don't worry. I'm proud of you for performing when you were nervous."


When they realise that others experience this, they are likely to feel less worried about laughing next time, and it is also likely that they won't laugh again the next time they perform. This is based on my own experiences as a teacher and what tends to happen after I address it with students.



2.) If you laugh when you are nervous, share a story with them to show that they aren't the only one that uses laughter to cope with experiences that overwhelm them.


This is another instance where they won't feel so bad about what they did and will likely feel safer on stage.




3.) Tell everyone on stage to stop and take a deep breath and repeat a small phrase that will boost their confidence.


You could say "Repeat the following out loud for me. This will help you tell your nerves in your body to settle whenever you perform. Say, "I am proud of me today. I am a good performer. I was nervous today. Noone is judging me when I perform."




Perhaps, students laugh on stage as a coping mechanism for experiencing an overwhelming amount of nerves, stress, triggering from trauma, and/or because of self-esteem issues?

So just to re-cap -


1.) If you find something different happens in your class, look into it to make sure there isn't an underlying issue that is causing the different behaviour


2.) If students are laughing, they might be nervous and are self-soothing


3.) Connect, address and relate to the situation to help support your learner through their predicament.



Time, Experience, Manaakitanga.


Remember online tuition is available for summer holidays and spaces are available for online tuition during the school year (2023).






Tovah O'Neill

Tovah's Tutoring Company Ltd.


Reference:

HelpGuide.org (2022) 'What are the physical, mental, and social benefits of laughter? Retrieved from Laughter is the Best Medicine - HelpGuide.org


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