Being comfortable in your body is an important part of being a successful actor. Spending time on your physicality is as important as spending time on your voice. In much the same way as voice training can benefit your vocal expression, movement training frees the body to express itself naturally, and increases your physical presence on stage. Taking care of your body will keep you fit and able, prevent injuries on stage, and make you a more grounded and competent performer.
Outside domestic naturalism, you can almost guarantee you will be faced with some sort of choreography. Whether this is dance, fight, or elements of physical theatre, being in tune with your own body will make you a more versatile and malleable performer, and invaluable to any company you join. This does not mean you need to be an olympic athlete, but keeping yourself fit, strong and agile keeps you ready for anything that might be thrown at you.
Whether you are wanting to warm up before a show, loosen tight muscles, or simply awaken a tired body, movement exercises for performance can be incredibly beneficial. Below are some exercises and advice for making sure your body is fit, free and ready to perform.
Movement Practices for Actors
Learning a style of codified movement is a great way of keeping the body free and able. Different people will tell you different things about what is best for the body, but at the end of the day, you should do what makes your body feel best.
Whether its yoga, ballet, martial arts, crossfit, tai chi, feldenkrais or calisthenics, learning a codified form of movement will strengthen your core, improve your posture and give you many techniques to awaken and invigorate your body. Any popular movement style will have more pros than cons for your physicality, as long as you ensure your training is balanced. Learning a style of movement is a great way to stay fit and healthy and in touch with your body all year round so you are physically prepared for your next audition or performance.
This is probably my favourite movement exercise, and one I employ as part of every warm-up. As with most good movement exercises, not only does plating awaken your core and align your balance, it also has huge benefits for the voice.
In a wide stance, imagine a plate is on the up-turned palm of your right hand. Explore the full range of movement you have whilst being careful not to let the ‘plate’ drop off your hand. Another way to think of it is your palm must always face the roof. In long circular movements, stretch out the front, to the back, to the side. Keep exploring how far you can stretch and contract this movement, exploring its full range whilst keeping your feet planted.
Repeat on the left side. After each side is warmed up, combine the movements and explore the relationship of the two sides, with the aim of creating fluid complementary circular movements.
You should feel this exercise stretch your ribs, engage your core and focus your balance.
This is a gentle warm up that is particularly useful when under energised or when your body is a bit tender. It helps alignment and increases focus, as it relies on intense concentration.
Standing neutral, raise and drop your right heel, keeping the ball of your foot on the ground, and your leg straight. Allow the slight shockwave to go up the right side of your body. Repeat this five or six times to awaken the right side. Start slowly and gently swinging your right arm back and forth. Allow the weight to move between the ball and heel of your right foot, as you concentrate on loosening the right side to complement the arm swing. Now concentrate on the path of the arm. Imagine a perfectly vertical circle that your hand would make if you swung it in a full large circle and slowly start to swing your arm around this circle, concentrating on keeping the line of the circle completely vertical and consistent. Allow the body to move freely to allow this movement to be precise.
After some time, come to a rest as you stand neutral. Notice the change in the right side of the body and compare it to your left. Repeat the exercise on the left side.
When you come to rest your body should feel relaxed, loose and symmetrical. If one side stills feels tighter, or you feel one shoulder is sitting higher than the other, you can repeat the exercise again.
DO yourself a favour, go to the local department store, and buy two or three super bouncy hollow rubber balls. They are about the size of a tennis ball, only cost a couple of dollars and can be used in a number of ways to warm up. (Buy Here: Voice Balls)
Massages: Either put the ball on the ground and massage your feet or massage your back by putting it between yourself and a wall. These little balls are a market stall masseuse you can fit in your bag. Work the ball in all directions under each foot. You will feel incredibly grounded and well balanced after a few minutes.
Line-Runs: You can use these balls in line runs by throwing and catching as lines are delivered and received. It is a great way to mix up a stagnant scene, or to create better connection. The coordination required is not huge (depending on how well you catch!), but it is enough to awaken the body and trigger our reflexes, making us more present and responsive. You should always try and increase the difficulty of the throwing and catching over time. It is also a great way to free up your delivery, as your brain is concentrating on the action, rather than over thinking the performance.
Warm-Ups: Playing piggy-in-the middle, or handball, or even just throwing and catching is a fun, gentle way to warm-up the body and awaken the senses. It can be between the whole cast, you and a friend or even against a wall by yourself. The most beneficial part of using a ball is it makes you aware of your surroundings and focuses your concentration on something outside yourself. It makes you present and responsive.
There are only two movements you can make is this game, attack or dodge. An attack or a dodge can be a one step movement in any direction, but once you complete the movement you must stay in that position until it is your turn to attack again, or you have to dodge. If you take more than one step or move from your final position you are out.
Standing in a circle arms lengths apart, one person starts with an attack movement. The target can dodge during the attack movement, but if they are touched they are out. The target can’t dodge before or after the attacker has moved. The person to the left of the attacker goes next. Keep going around the circle until only one person remains.
With this warm-up game, the bigger the movements you make, the more enjoyable and beneficial it is. Push the limits of your balance, and explore your full reach to surprise people and be the last ninja standing!