Just Getting Warmed Up
Ever feel like your performance is slightly out of tune? As if the lines aren’t quite “hitting,” or you just can’t seem to relax on stage? The reason could be as simple as a lack of pre-performance preparation. A musician would never think of performing on stage without first tuning her instrument but warming up is something actors and directors tend to overlook. Following are the practical elements of a complete (and simple) theatrical warm-up:
Center the heart and mind on the real source and reason for the dramatic arts and invite the Lord to fill his vessel and tell his story.
Begin by assuming a comfortable stance, with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your weight evenly distributed. Then, follow a “head to toe” pattern:
Drop the head forward and slowly rotate it counterclockwise. Reverse this a few times. Lace your fingers on the top and back of your head, then relax your arms (don’t push), letting gravity pull your head down gently for a few seconds.
Rotate your shoulders forward, then backward. Swing your arms in front of you. Stretch your arms at all of the joints: shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Shake out your arms and hands, gently loosening all of the joints.
Widen your stance slightly and then slowly bend at the waist, letting your entire upper body relax forward, with your fingertips dangling toward the floor. Make sure your head and neck are relaxed and continue to breathe normally. Press your palms toward the floor for a few seconds at a time, staying down and in a relaxed position between “presses.”
Very slowly come up to a standing position, with your head and neck coming up last. Continue the upward motion onto your toes, and reach up toward the ceiling, alternating your reach with each hand.
Return to a standing position and “shake out” your legs. Alternate pulling up each ankle by bending at the knee and clutching each ankle behind you. Rotate each foot at the ankle, alternating clockwise and counterclockwise.
Finish by gently bouncing up and down on the balls of the feet, keeping everything loose and relaxed.
Begin loosening up the facial muscles by contracting and expanding your face in exaggerated expressions. Gently massage your face, shoulders, and neck with your fingertips. Lick your lips and your teeth. Walk through each of the sounds the mouth and voice can produce:
Plosives. Sounds produced by suddenly releasing breath: p, b, t, d, k, and g. Repeat each sound ten times or so (puh puh puh puh puh puh, etc.) and then do them all together in order (puh puh puh, buh buh buh, tuh tuh tuh, etc.).
Fricatives. Sounds produced by releasing air through a narrow slit formed by the lips, tongue, or teeth: shh, szhhh, tss, zzz, fff, vvv. These can be done in alternating groups of two (shh-szhhh, shh-szhhh, shh-szhhh, then tss-zzz, tss-zzz, tss-zzz, etc.), producing a kind of “sawing” sound with each.
Projection. Send a long “Heeeeeeyyyyyy” sound to whichever wall you’re facing, concentrating on projecting the voice as far as possible. This can also be done with a series of loud “laughs,” again trying to project each “word” as far as possible (HA-HA, HO-HO, HEE-HEE, HOO-HOO, etc.).
Finding voice. Place your hand on your solar plexus (that’s the indentation just below your breastbone, a kind of an inverted “V” shape), then gently produce the sound “huh.” You should feel that muscle contract. This is a fast way to find your natural speaking voice: the sound produced with that “huh” 1s where your voice is designed to sit.
Finally, warm-ups should typically end with some kind of exercise to ensure that the cast is all working as a unified team. For example, try standing in a circle holding hands, with eyes closed, and slowly send around a “pulse” by squeezing the hand of the person next to you. That person should then pass the pulse on as quickly as possible, and let it travel around the circle.
All of the above may seem like cosmic overkill for a short scene or monologue, but a relaxed body and honed voice can make a huge difference in the quality of a performance. The importance of warming up goes far beyond quality, though. The increased adrenaline of acting has been known to make even the most basic movements dangerous when a person isn’t properly stretched. So, go ahead and make warm-ups a regular part of rehearsals—you won't regret it!