To begin, the actor warms up...
Raise your hands, how many of you do a warm-up before a performance? How about before a rehearsal? If so, why? If not, why not?
I know actors who warm-up and I know actors who don’t; as someone who believes in the value of a warm-up, I often wonder why it’s not something all actors do. Athletes would never think of playing a game without warming up first, and actors, like athletes require full use of their bodies and minds. Wait, let me rephrase what I just wrote: professional athletes would never think of not warming up.
Of course in sports warming up is more essential to the health and longevity of the athlete, whereas, depending on the kind of performance the actor is in, warming up may seem all that important. It’s easy to see that musical theatre performer must warm up their body and voice to avoid injury, but does it really matter if an actor performing in a straight contemporary play to an audience of fifty does?
Warming up is not just about avoiding injury; it’s about aligning one’s body and mind to the present moment. It’s about keeping your instrument, your body, tuned, so that you can better communicate and receive communication. It’s about grounding yourself and preparing yourself for the task at hand. And the difference between an actor who does warm-up and one who doesn’t is monumental. The actor who does warm-up sees their work as worthy of preparation; they respect the art of performing. The actor who does not warm-up is either missing the knowledge to know why and how to warm-up, or they just don’t care to. One of these actors has the mindset of a professional.
For those actors who do warm-up, what I’m saying is nothing new. You respect your body and mind as essential to your work and see warm-ups as a necessary part of that. To those actors who don’t, once again I ask, why not?
Physical warm-ups (eg. stretching, yoga, breath work) aren’t just for dancers and physical performers. They open up and relax the body so the actor can more easily connect to their impulses, as well as giving an actor more awareness of their instrument. Focusing on one’s body is also a way to ground oneself in the present moment. Leave the reviews, the grocery lists and the fear of who is or isn’t coming tonight outside; connecting to one’s body puts your mind where it needs to be in order to have a good performance, it focuses it on the task at hand.
Vocal warm-ups (eg. humming, singing, articulating, speaking text) are also not just important for singers. If you speak any text in your work, you will benefit by warming up your voice. Even actors working on camera, who don’t need to project, will still warm up their articulators so that they don’t trip over their words. Vocal warm-ups aid in clarity; if the audience can’t hear or understand you, then what was the point of learning all those lines? In theatre, we can’t afford to mumble our words; our audience can’t rewind the scene to hear what they’ve missed. Vocal warm-ups also prime our voices for flexibility, so that we are able to speak text with colour and variety, especially important in narrative or descriptive texts like Shakespeare. Vocal warm-ups aid us in communicating as clearly as possible.
Mental warm-ups (eg. going over lines, group connecting, meditating, getting into costume), like physical warm-ups, helps us prepare for what we’re about to do. This kind of warm-up is very individual, and may change based on the requirements of the project, and what the actor needs to fulfill them. Any kind of mental warm-up will, at the very least, put the actor in a frame of mind to work. The actor has come to do a job, and a mental warm-up helps the actor become focused and present.
There are so many benefits to warming up, that it surprises me when I see actors who don’t. I can only assume that they aren’t aware of how taking that time would benefit them and help them in their work. I know that asking the question of why I think it’s important, has certainly solidified for me it’s value. As actors we only have one thing to bring to our work: ourselves. Why not do our craft the justice of having our bodies and our minds primed and ready to do the work? Isn’t what we do worth the respect and small effort it takes to warm-up?