I’m quite certain most people think actors are a little crazy. For this reason, I used to feel self-conscious when it came time to do my warm-up in front of others. Who wants to be another mad actor lying around sighing and making siren noises, their legs up against the proscenium arch, while venue staff buzz around doing the real work? Well, you may feel uncomfortable or find yourself holding back at first, but warming up should be a key element of an actor’s routine before a performance.
This week, I’d like to look at the difference between a ‘relaxing’ and ‘energising’ warm-up.
As a bubbly and energetic person, I’m a perfect candidate for a relaxing warm-up routine. I lie with my legs resting against the wall to do my vocal warm-up before gently rolling around on the floor, stretching, yawning and humming in order to settle myself whilst waking my body up.
If you’re feeling highly-strung, stressed or agitated, your mind and body also require a relaxing warm-up. This can be anything that helps you focus and tune in to your body. Lots of humming, lying on the ground, breathing deeply and gentle massage – though you have to do this yourself, unfortunately!
Other actors may require an energising warm-up to get the blood pumping, wake up the body and get them in the mood for a show. If you feel out of sorts, tired, or flat, an energising warm-up is what you need. Shaking limbs, waking up the body and almost aerobic type exercises may be necessary. Anything that turns up the energy dial!
Your warm-up should not be based solely on your present mood, however. If you have performed before, you will know what your tendencies are once you are out on stage. You may find that your jaw locks up, or you may stumble on words. Everyone is different and an actor’s warm-up should reflect this.
I don’t know whether it’s because I am excited, or because I want to get it over and done with, but my weakness is that I tend to rush when I am nervous. For this reason, I have developed a strict warm-up routine that is centred on relaxation. I still need to wake my body up, but my main focus is on settling and centring my body and breathing deeply.
I mentioned massage earlier. Sure there’s your neck and shoulders, but do you ever massage your feet? Look at them and think about how much work they do each day. They deserve to be looked after. I was taught a foot massage routine at acting school that has worked its way into both my extended and express warm-up routines. I absolutely love it. As I draw much of my character work from the way my character makes a connection with the floor, my feet are a priority.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but if you sit cross-legged and pop one foot up over your knee you can knead the sole of your foot with your elbow. After this, use both hands to massage the heel and ball of your foot and bend the toes back and forth. Now stand and take a walk around, noticing the difference between the massaged foot and that thing on the end of your other leg. It’s incredible to think that you had ever neglected your feet before, right?
During my recent 9-week tour of The Weather and Your Health, we would often go from sitting in the car for hours to bumping in at a new venue, grabbing a bite to eat and doing a show. I purposely developed a schedule that allowed time for a decent warm-up because I knew there was no point taking this lovely little production on the road if the performance itself wasn’t up to scratch.
Keeping your performance fresh can be a challenge during a long season. The actor’s warm-up is designed to prepare mentally and physically for this challenge. A tip would be to get creative. Play around and see what works for you. Try structuring something fun too, as this will make it easier to drag yourself away from the interesting conversation taking place in the dressing room! Having fun backstage before a show is a great part of the live theatre experience, but discipline can also be a wonderful thing…
If not for you, do it for your audience. They deserve to see you performing in peak condition, prepared and on form.
Bethany’s play, The Weather and Your Health, has just been selected for the 2012 VCE Drama Playlist and will be touring nationally next March and April. Visit bethanysimons.com for tour info or to contact Bethany.