Singers prepare their voices. Dancers stretch their limbs. Improvisers need to warm-up their minds, bodies and the team. Professional talent uses the following exercises regularly before rehearsals and performances. We use the same games in classes and workshops to teach focus, listening, team and performance techniques.
NIGHT BEFORE – get some sleep. There I nothing better for a great day of performance than proper sleep with a lot of water the night before. Take care of your voice and body and it will be there for you when it counts.
STEP 1) STRETCH your body to wake up every limb.
Shake out your feet and hands. Loosen up your lower back, shoulders and neck. If you have chronic tension or pain, inform your teacher/director right away. They might have some exercises for you or ways to protect during class, rehearsal and/or performances. We all have bad habits that are usually connected to how we process stress. We have tension and don’t even know it. As you get older you feel the pain of a life time of hold tension in your back, jaw, toes, hands etc. But if you can learn to relax every tension, you take control of your performer’s body. You erase your bad habits so you can create characters with their own bad habits. Ever notice how so many artists look young for their age. I think it is because they manage stress better than most. That does not mean they deal with stress mentally and emotionally, but they learn not to hold physical tension, or least how to release it.
Great artists are incredibly INTENSE without actually being TENSE. If you do not know how to warm-up, take a few dance classes or movement for the performer. Also classes in yoga and tai chi make great physical training ground for performers. Take a class in Mime.
STEP 2) Wake up your speaking voice.
Start with a soft, low-pitch hum. Do some tongue twisters. Vocalize some “Aaaahs” and “Oooohs” at high, medium and low pitches. Get louder and louder until you can be heard through out the space. Not feeling so good? The mild vibrations are great for sinus headaches too! Classical singers extend their vocal range alternating soft relaxing tones at both ends. Want to sing higher notes, sing relaxing low notes. Too many young singers go right to scream up high, than are done for the week. “I’m on vocal rest!” PLEASE!?!
Whether you are speaking or singing, not warming up the voice is just as bad as any other muscle. Lack of proper warm up leads to injury – sometimes long term. A friend of mine was not a dancer, but he could dance, and in college did a lot of dancing as we did not have many male dancers. He could move and had great rhythm, but not being a trained dancer, he hurt himself very badly. He was late for a dress rehearsal. He missed the stretching. Now we were all leaping across stage – grand jeté – crossing diagonally. Run Run leap… Run Run leap… Run Run “Aaaaaaaah” I forget the exact injury but he landed horribly and was forced to quit the show.
I don’t think anyone ever died doing Improv poorly, but trust me when I say warming up individually and as a team makes your improv far better. And the same can be true of anything in life. The more you prepare, the better you present yourself, and the better the next opportunities grow…
STEP 3) WARM UP THE TEAM
Circle up and Play some of the following games to wake up the brain and body as well as to get the team working together as one. FOCUS!!!
SHAKE IT OUT
Players Shake Right Hand counting LOUDLY “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”. Repeat quickly for left hands “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”, right foot “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8” and the left foot“1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”. Repeat but this time 1-7 on each hand/foot. Continue down to “1 – 1 – 1 – 1”, ending with a big cheer.
Don’t have a lot of time, count down on even numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 – 1 2 3 4 5 6 – 1 2 3 4 – 1 2.
ZIP, ZAP, ZUP
Player one claps, points and makes eye contact with another player in the circle while saying “ZIP!” Player two does the same saying “ZAP!” Player thee says “ZUP!” Continue indefinitely. Big energy and focus will allow this game to wake up the team.
FREE WORD ASSOCIATION
Never think. Just yell out the first thing in your head. Standing in a circle, player one says any word to player two. Player two says any word to player three. Continue around the circle.
This is also a great brainstorming exercise. When Brainstorming never edit. Don’t judge. NEVER HATE! Just let ideas flow. Who cares how silly or crazy they are? Every great idea usually seems silly or crazy at first because it is new. But then that silly or crazy idea becomes a work of genius. “What a mind to come up with such original greatness!?!” You never hear that if you always play it safe. And most great works of art that seem original, probably with an idea that was so far out it would never work, but that extreme idea is worked and finessed and fixed and over time and team work, we get genius
DU – DU – DU
Now lets continue a free thinking game but we will now start to work together to create ideas. Standing in a circle everyone snap in a moderate steady rhythm.
BEAT ONE Player one says a one syllable word ( example: “Dog” )
BEAT TWO Player Two says a word that somehow relates to the first word ( example: “House” )
BEAT THREE The entire team repeats both words ( example: “Dog House” )
BEAT FOUR all say “du-du-du” (there is a specific tone and rhythm that I will show in a future video)
BEAT FIVE REST
Now Player Two leads new word to Player Three. Repeat around the circle.
Usually the rhythm will slowly get faster and the tone higher pitched, but resist the temptation. Keeping a steady pace is very hard and a great skill to practice as well as listening and free thinking.
WARNING: BE IN THE MOMENT – thinking ahead will make you choke up. Listen and Respond to your team mates. This is one of those games that is almost too easy for a team that is in sync. But if this game is not smooth you know you need to work on team play.
ONE WORD STORY
Let’s create an original story. Each player can add one word at a time. Every word is important. Listen to the entire team so that your word makes sense grammatically and to the story. Project with good diction (speak loud and clearly) so that others can understand you. Make eye contact with the player before and after you, and then follow the story around the circle with your eyes. This will ensure the highest level of focus.
ONE SENTENCE STORY
Similar to ONE WORD STORY, each player gets to add a full statement. Each statement should add details to the scene and/or forward the action of the plot. I like to play this by adding “YES! And…” to every statement. Especially in short workshops and master classes. There will be more “YES! And…” warm-up and technique games in a following post.
Count to 21
Everyone closes their eyes. The goal is to count to 21 without two players ever talking at the same time. The exercise takes focus and extreme listening skills. When you can accomplish this the team is truly working as one.
This game is a great way to truly find out who on your team knows how to focus. Focus seems like a simple enough thing but many struggle with focus. Many these days have diagnosed focus issues. I find most often focus issues comes from a place of insecurity. When you are anxious, it is hard to relax and find calm. Great focus requires complete stillness, while the mind intensely listens with all the senses.
If you struggle with focus I recommend taking yoga, tai chi, Alexander or other activities that are basically all about focus. They require intense focus with slow moving and/or passive stretching. When I was young I took martial arts and played a lot of sports. In school I participated in many leadership workshops through arts and student government (Senior Class President in High School). When I finally turned to acting my mentor was all about Alexander Technique. Around the same time I took a lot of dance classes, opera voice coaching and performed a few big shows every semester. I credit all of these when folks ask how someone my size can move so well. LOTS OF TRAINING!!! EVEN MORE PRACTICE and EXPERIENCE!!!
We will have more games in the future. We are just scratching the serface…
As you warm up, consider the following….
HAVE FUN & BE IN THE MOMENT
When in doubt smile. If you are having a good time, or at least pretending, the audience will as well. Never worry about what happened in the past. Do not try to plan ahead or even worse fear the future. Both keep you from being in the moment. Listen to what happens on stage as if this were real life action and conversations going on, and then respond.
BIG VOICES & BIG CHOICES
When on stage we need to hear you. At the beginning, you may think you are shouting. Your scene partners and audience need to hear you to engage your scene and character work. Make BIG choices. There is no wrong. If the choice does not go as plan, who cares? Shift gears and make a new BIG choice. NEVER FEAR FAILURE. If you do not fear MAKING BIG MISTAKES, you will learn more from the mistakes and succeed greater from the wins. Unless you are working on someone’s brain or a bomb, mistakes are almost always a good thing. Some our greatest advancements in art, science and society come out of experiments and accidents. Remember the story of Penicillin!!!
IF YOU HAVE DONE SO YET, START A JOURNAL
The arts – from painting to sculpting to acting to dancing to singing and beyond – is a very subjective process. Every artist should record their experiences and observations in a journal. When possible, record with video and audio. Our Journal doubles and triples our ability to learn and grow as an artist. I have a new journal for every class I take or production (play or musical) I perform. I write down everything I see, hear, touch, smell and feel. I record my lines and blocking to help memorize. I record my life to help process. USE A JOURNAL!!!