Breathe as your character – Too often actors can get caught running out of breathe on a line, and a wave of self-consciousness rushes over their face. It’s because we fear if we breathe we’re breaking character… characters need to breathe too.
Embrace your character’s breath; use it how we do every day. Catch your breath, take in deep breaths, exhale with a sigh; these can be extraordinarily telling to a characters emotional state.
Vocal warm-ups and exercises are imperative to any theatre performance; it awakens the appropriate muscles and targets certain areas of the brain to prepare the vocal chords and lungs for a safe and dynamic vocal production. Once warm and aware, your vocal technique and breath will come naturally, there is no need to think about it on stage – it’ll already be there. An hour before you step on stage, take considerable time making sure your breath is deep and steady to allow for maximum control and resonance. There are many warm-up techniques to ensure this, and can be attained by simply laying on the ground with your legs elevated on a chair for about ten minutes, however I believe this four step breathing exercise works best:
- Lay in semi-supine (back on the ground with your knees up and your feet flat on the ground, a book under your head is also beneficial). Take a deep breath allowing your stomach to fully release and expand, on the exhale make a ‘sh’ sound and allow your stomach to retract back to your abdominals. Repeat this with an ‘s’ sound, then a ‘th’ sound, and finally ‘f’. Repeat this four times (or less if time becomes a factor). On the inhale you should also feel your lower back expand and push into the ground – and with practice you will gain greater release from this area.
- Turn to your right side so your right ribs are pressing into the ground, your right arm extended out in front of you allowing your head to rest on it. Curl your legs up so you are comfortable. Repeat the breathing exercise with the four sounds. You should now feel the side of your stomach pushing into the ground as you inhale.
- Flip over onto your hands and knees and rest your bum back onto your heels and allow you chest to come down to your knees. Extend your arms above your head, stretching out straight with your palms flat on the ground. Repeat the breathing exercise, this position should allow for maximum release for your lower back.
- Come back up on to your hands and knees and let your head hang low, relaxing your neck muscles. Repeat the breathing exercise allowing your stomach to drop and hang beneath you on the inhale.
After the final position, make sure you have a light an easy stretch and take your time coming back up to standing. This is a classic singing warm-up focused on dropping your breath. It is the most important vocal warm-up you can do before stepping onto stage. Your breath will now give you incredible support and strength – use it!