The Voice Warmup

This is the most popular post on Groundling. I continue to add to it with hotlinks and further comment on one of the more important skills for the actor – the voice warmup.

Scribbles to Myself (April 2008)

So the voice is on my mind right now, not only because of my own recent scare in the run up to performance, but also because I am currently working with a group of students on a production; I’m co-directing Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch with a group of actors in the second year of their professional training program. One of my briefs is also to teach them how to rehearse, to gear themselves up for the tasks of exploration in the rehearsal room, and then to take this work to performance before a live audience.

I found myself at yesterday’s rehearsal urging them to prep the head as well as the body for work. When energy is distracted e.g., stretching whilst chatting about last night’s party, the body is not being brought to the mind or the mind to the body. This is a phrase I really like from An Acrobat of the Heart by Stephen Wangh. Urging a focussed attention on self as part of the warmup forms part of my instruction on this most important part of the actor’s process. Getting from where you are to where you need to be is what the warmup is all about.

And the voice warmup? As a voice coach myself, I know how really vital this is, and my students tend to approach a warmup from this angle. The voice workout (a different beast altogether) and the warmup are taught as part of the actor training in our program, so they know what it is and why they do it, but customising the warmup for rehearsal and then performance has to be learned. Indeed, integrating a body, voice, mind warmup is the goal.

This is what I wrote some time back during another production.

The voice warmup
There can’t be too many actors who’ve trained during the past 30 or so years, who aren’t familiar with the warmup. It’s part of contemporary thinking about the nature of the actor as an ‘athlete of the heart’ with all the connotations of preparing to challenge the body, mind, and heart for the act of performance. For many actors, it would be impossible to imagine performing without going through a ritual that takes you ‘from where you are to where you need to be’ to work.

Watch a group of actors doing a warmup, and you’ll see a range of styles, from the energetic to the focussed and intense. There are some actors who love to warmup with the others in the company; other actors can’t abide being distracted from their own personal process. Horses for courses. What is common to all is the recognition that a different energy is needed to perform. There is a commitment to getting the body-mind out of the daily and into the extra-daily state of being, and ready to go.

What many actors in training don’t do however, is to prepare for a rehearsal or a class. And many don’t have a process to help deal with the particular task. A rehearsal on a scene is very different from a performance; a class is another beast altogether. A warmup for a rehearsal or a class should take no more than 10-15 minutes of focussed preparation. This is what you should do:

  • A quick diagnostic humming up and down the range and then on full breath to check for missing notes.
  • Stretching, check alignment and spinal rolls. Spinal rolls during the diagnostic are good.
  • Focus on the task to come and leave what’s outside, outside.
  • Free the lips, tongue, soft palate and yawn. Open up the channel.
  • Finish with some text based on the class or rehearsal.
  • Don’t warm up lying down.
  • Don’t chat with others warming up. This is work.
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