Actors are emotional athletes, we go through the same range of emotions and effort on a daily basis that some people do in a lifetime. Just like athletes we need to regularly work on our bodies and our instrument to ensure it is ready for the emotional rollercoaster of playing a role. The three pillars of this are the body, the mind and the voice. The following is a short, yet effective, daily workout that you can do to get these three pillars all working in perfect harmony.
Start with the physical movement of the body. Physical ability, mobility and fitness is a vital tool in an actors toolkit. Depending on the type of work you are going for, physical fitness can be an essential part, from action movies to musical theatre performers, actors bodies are their worlds and must be looked after for an actor to do their best work. Regardless of whether you are in a tiny apartment or a massive farm backing onto a national park, these are exercises you can do anywhere anytime.
- 3 sets of 10x push-ups (you can modify by putting your knees on the ground if required)
- Hold a bridge for 1 minute
- 3 sets of 10x squats (fast on the way down, as slow as possible on the way up)
- Squat hold for 1 minute
- 3 sets of 10x burpees
You can add 20 minutes of cardio in there as well – a run, a jog, a swim, up and down some flights of stairs or a bicycle ride. And there you have a great, simple full-body workout to get you sweating and activate all the muscles in your body.
Once you’ve sweated it out and got your body feeling alive, it’s time to stretch it out. This is a great time to go to a yoga class or watch some yoga tutorials on YouTube. I love the videos from Leslie Fightmaster, she’s a wonderfully positive yoga instructor from California. If you can’t access that, then try this quick salute to the sun.
- Start standing with your hands in front of your chest, palms together and breathe.
- Bring your arms out to the side, above your head at full stretch palms together
- Take a breath there
- Palms to the floor and into downward dog, flex through your ankles.
- Bring your body forward into pushup position, and push forward till your back is arched looking up towards the ceiling.
- Move back into downward dog
- Bring your weight back onto your feet and spinal roll (very slowly) back to a standing position
- Bring your hands back in front of your chest back where you started.
In addition make sure you stretch out your big muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, arms, chest and shoulders. Also, take some time to stretch your intercostal muscles, to expand your ribs, right arm up, take it over towards the left side of your body and hold it. Then swap. When stretching, hold each position for at least 30 seconds. You want to feel warmed up, loosened up and ready to work.
After completing some stretching and/or yoga, it’s a perfect time to centre your mind. Meditation is a fantastic practice to start doing regularly. There are some great apps out there like Calm and Headspace as well as approximately a million YouTube channels that can help in this. For my very basic version try this:
Sit cross-legged on the floor in the middle of your available space
Concentrate on your breathing, breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth slowing it down to a count of in for 3, hold for 3 and out for 3.
If your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.
Start with just five minutes and work your way up from there.
So your body is warm and loose, your mind is centred and focused, now the last thing to do is to warm up your voice. There are three parts to any good voice warm-up. Breath, sound and text. Here are some example exercises you can try:
- Lie on the ground, with your legs straight and flat on the floor.
As you breathe in, bend your knees, and lift them up to create 2x 90 degree angles.
And as you breathe out, lower your legs back to the starting position. Your legs should touch the ground just as you run out of breath. Repeat 12x rounds.
- *Standing version*
Start with your legs wide apart, tuck your tailbone under and lengthen your spine. If you can’t do this, your legs might be too wide.
Take your head and upper body down towards the floor as you breathe out
Come back up to standing on the inhale.
Once your breathing is long, powerful and settled, you are ready to move on to the next activity: adding in sound. If you liked the first two exercises on breathing, you can keep repeating it, but now add in some sound. Inhale, and then exhale on a soft “Oo.” You can work your way through all the vowel sounds, and then finish on an “M” (hum). Make sure this sound is making your lips vibrate, bring it right forward. Do not let it sit in the back of your throat as this could cause damage.
Also try standing up, begin to hum, softly at first. Start on an ‘M’ sound. Try and find a pitch that is as low as you can hit with power behind it, while ensuring the vibration is on your lips, not your throat. Once that sound is nice and powerful, try throwing it across the room! Pick a spot, and do a throwing action like a baseball pitcher and throw the sound with the action. Do some sirens, exploring your range from the top to the bottom of your pitch range.
Add in some articulation, pretend you are playing the drums with only consonants: b, d, g, t, s, p, l, k etc. Try out a few tongue twisters. Keep it fun, and engaging. If you have done the same thing a few times recently try something new to keep it interesting! We have heaps of ideas here.
Then finally text! Get that play out and read out a monologue, practice some of your favourite Shakespeare, recite a poem and if possible do it with all the vocal power you’ve been generating without yelling or causing damage. Need a database for scenes, monologues and Shakespeare? Become a member.
Now you should be feeling warm, limber, energised and centred. The first time you do this, it might take a while but as you go along and get into a routine, you could do all of this inside half an hour. After which, your body your mind and your voice will be ready to work. Imagine how much your work could improve if you did this every day! Challenge accepted?