Theatre Warm Ups for the Entire Cast
Acting on stage is a team sport, anyone that tells you otherwise is probably a diva. Everyone in a cast has different roles, and different jobs to do, but everyone is working together for the same goal. Just like a sports team, the success of an on-stage team is all about connection, energy, interaction and communication. That is what the audience is there to see, and is what the cast must invest in to carry the show. A single actor can have an outstanding performance in a bad show, but a great ensemble, invariably, will create a great show.
All sports teams warm-up before a game to make sure they are working well together, so here are 5 exercises a cast can do before a show to make sure they are functioning as a team.
Vocal Warm Up
Nothing like a good vocal warm-up to get yourself ready for a show, so why not do some of this as a team? Actors in Musical Theatre will know the importance of a good group sing before a show to get everyone on the same page, but it can often be neglected by straight actors. Everyone has different needs for their own warm-up, so time alone is important, but finding an exercise or several that the entire cast can be involved in can bring the cast together as of the pre-show ritual.
Pre-recorded guided Vocal warm-ups can be found online with a bit of searching if you want something more codified, otherwise a great list of vocal warm-ups can be found here: vocal warm exercises.
Physical Warm Up
A physical warm up is another integral part of a warm up. Just like with vocal warm-ups, people will have their own rituals they need to do to feel ready, but partnered stretching is useful for warming up the body, and fostering communication and connection within the cast. Below are a couple of stretches and exercises to do in partners.
Rib Stretch – stand facing your partner, and hold onto each other’s wrists firmly. Counter-balancing, step one leg back and lean back away from each other, so you are bent at the hips with your arms stretched out, still connected with your partner. Make sure you are stable, and feel your partner’s weight and angle, to provide equal and opposite pressure back, moving your torso to reach a strong stretches all along the rib cage. Keep moving positions to move the stretch, the whole while staying in counter-balance.
Beat down– A very quick, simple and satisfying exercise. Lean to the side to stretch your ribs on one side, whilst your partner with slightly cupped hands ‘beats’ all up and down the rib cage. Roll to the front, whilst your partner continues ‘beating’ the ribs, not touching the spine, and roll up to stretch the other side of your ribcage. Swap with your partner and repeat.
Energy Warm Up: Receive and Pass
Once everyone has their voice and bodies warmed up, you can build connection and energy. This exercise is for the whole cast.
Receive and Pass is a great way to connect the cast, and bring up the energy. Everyone is moving around the space. Someone starts by ‘throwing’ a click clearly at someone. You then ‘catch’ the click by clicking yourself, before clicking to throw it to the next person. The aim is to do this at great speed. You have to stay focused and present, following who has the click and throwing clearly to someone specific, whilst moving around the space.
Doing a thorough group warm up helps get the most out of each actor and is definitely worth the 5 or 10 minute investment every night.
You can replace the clicks with words if you like. In my experience, the sillier or cruder the better to make it fun, as long as it stays fast and focused. If you choose to use words, make sure you have a ‘catch’ word and ‘throw’ word.
Try to make the words connect in some way. For example play – theatre; theatre – actor. Word association.
Lines: Speed Runs
Speed runs of scenes work really well to get the team on task. This shouldn’t be used to ‘rehearse’ scenes, this should be used to churn through lines at lightning pace to establish focus, and reaffirm the muscle-memory of the learned lines.
Group scenes, or tricky scenes with overlaps are great to do this for. Ditch the blocking and don’t focus on intentions and performance, just churn through the scene as quickly as you can. If it starts lagging, start moving faster around the space or jumping on each others cues to drive the pace up.
Lines: Circle Work
This exercise is a tricky one, and requires a lot of focus and a strong knowledge of the text, but if you are warming up for a performance, this shouldn’t be a problem! It can also be a lot of fun if done right.
Stand with your cast in a circle. Someone jumps into the middle with a line, any line, from anywhere in the play, as long as it is a cue line for another actor. From this line, continue to play out the scene from that point in the middle of the circle. Keep it rolling until a line or moment inspires another actor on the outside of the circle to feed a new line from a different point in the play, and reset the action in the middle of the circle. When the reset happens, the action should be picked up immediately from the new cue line by the cast.
This exercise really gets you thinking fast, as you have to make links between subject and scenes and be ready to jump into any point of the play at any time, with your lines ready to go.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do to warm up as a cast, and work together as a team, is to say a genuine ‘chookas’ to each other. Not everyone has to get along socially, but that does not mean you can’t work well together. Everyone must be confident in the team to get the show across the line, so wish each other a good show, every show and that confidence and respect will be brought on stage so that everyone can do their best work for the team!
For a play to work, it requires a collective effort. Actors need to come together to tell a story. Doing a thorough group warm up helps get the most out of each actor and is definitely worth the 5 or 10 minute investment every night.