This month, as we think about how all the non-actors in a production (stage managers, run crew, dressers, designers, dramaturgs, board operators, etc.) selflessly serve the Work, it’s helpful to remember that everyone needs time to physically and mentally recharge. Bringing your cast and crew together for a warm up, a check in, or a moment to breathe together, can help center everyone’s focus and boost morale, especially during the dreaded Tech Week when everyone’s nerves are shot. If you’re searching for group-oriented physical and vocal warm ups, we’ve got you covered! Below are some tried and true methods excerpted from our Class to Cast study guide. For the entire PDF, subscribe to our newsletter!
Beginning each rehearsal with a warm-up is a great way to help your students transition from school mode to rehearsal-mode. It will also help your students to establish a pattern for rehearsals and to know what to expect each class or each afternoon.
We suggest that each warm-up consist of a physical, a vocal, and a group component. The physical and vocal components prepare your students to use their bodies as tools on the stage, while the group component can build energy, direct focus, and serve as a bonding exercise for your cast.
Physical warm-ups for acting, like those for exercise, get the body ready to move. It can also help your students to get some of their wiggles out if they have been stuck at their desks all day.
If any of your students are involved in sports or are yoga enthusiasts, you may want to hand over the Physical Warm-Ups to them on a rotating basis. They may know of good, quick routines to help get everyone’s bodies loosened up and ready for action.
- Neutral Stance: Your actors should become accustomed to defaulting to this position when you circle up for warm-ups. Instruct them to stand with their feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, slightly bent at the knees (so that the knees do not lock), arms held loosely at their sides.
- While there are a near-infinite combination of stretches you can have your students do, make sure that you pick a set and lead them through it: don’t just leave them to their own devices. Having a set routine will make it easier for you, and will also help to make sure that the students are really warming up in a useful way.
- Make sure you work all the major muscle groups: arms, back, core, legs. Work rotations as well as plain back-and-forth stretching.
- Relaxing the Neck and Back: Many people (including stressed-out teenagers) carry a lot of tension in their neck, shoulders, and spine. Consider the following instructions to help release some of that tension during physical warm-ups:
- Have your students roll their necks slowly from side to side, so that their chins touch their chests.
- Slowly bend at the waist, arms hanging loosely. This should be close to toe-touching, but without any strain or stress to do so: if they can touch the floor, great; if not, they shouldn’t force it. As the teacher, you may want to go around the circle and touch their backs lightly; they should be able to bounce loosely without feeling tension in their back muscles. Then have them roll slowly back up, vertebra by vertebra, feeling their spine slide back into place.
- Shakeout: Circle up. Have your students raise their right hands and shake it eight times, while counting aloud. Then do the same with the left hand, right foot, and left foot. Repeat, shaking one less time on each round, until you get down to one shake on each appendage. End with a big, satisfying “HWAH.”
Vocal warm-ups include a lot of information on how the body makes sound – both how the breath, stomach, chest, and throat work together to support the projection of sound, and how the lips, tongue, teeth, and palate actually shape syllables. These warm-ups will work best if you give your students a basic introduction to these concepts.
Breath Support: This is one of the most important considerations for an actor. Most of us do not use our respiratory systems to their full extent on a daily basis – and most of the time, we don’t need to. In order to project on stage and to take full advantage of the opportunities the human body presents for performance, actors must learn to breathe in a way that better supports the voice.
- Talk about the lungs and the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle at the base of the lungs which separates the thoracic cavity (generally thought of as the chest cavity, containing the heart, lungs, and ribs) from the abdominal cavity. Breathing in contracts this muscle, allowing the lungs to expand further.
- Practice breathing deeply, all the way down into the diaphragm. Have your students place their hands just below their ribs so that they can feel this muscle work.
- Remind your students that posture plays a big part into the use of the voice. Your lungs and muscles cannot operate at maximum efficiency if you are slouched or slumped.
- Have your students experiment with other breathing variations. What do they sound like if they breathe very shallowly, barely into the chest at all, and try to speak? (Make sure no one hyperventilates while trying this out). How can the speed of air intake or expulsion affect the voice?
Resonating Chambers: These are the cavities in the body where air – where the sound “comes from.” Have your students practice creating sound through each of these chambers.
- Head: Creates a higher pitch and a softer tone. (Not to be confused with the “head voice” or falsetto).
- Nasal: Also high-pitched, sounds a little more pinched.
- Mouth: Where most of our resonance typically happens.
- Chest: Darker and deeper in tone.
Diction: Diction exercises warm the mouth up to go through all the motions it will need to during a show. Basic suggestions include:
- “Motorcycle” lips: vibrate the lips by pushing air through while keeping them mostly closed
- Stretch and squish the mouth – make “ow” sounds with the mouth as big and open as possible, then make “oo” sounds with the lips scrunched forward
- Tongue-twisters of all kinds fall into this category. The best put the mouth through all of its paces, using the tongue, lips, and teeth to form every possible variant of sounds in the English language.
- When working through these warm-ups, make sure that your students are rounding out their vowels and hitting all of their consonants sharply. Listen for tell-tale slurring and sliding. For the one-liners, repeat several times; for the longer ones, just go through once or twice.
- Red leather, yellow leather
- She sells sea shells by the sea shore
- The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue
- To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock
In a pestilential prison with a life-long long
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block. (From The Mikado)
Group warm-ups are often more colloquially referred to as “theatre games.” Ending your warm-up with a group exercise helps to build energy, to focus your students on the task ahead, and to build camaraderie in your ensemble. These games are also community-building. Once your students know the games, they will take agency over them. They may make “house rules” and other adjustments, and they will pass these games down to new students, year-to-year.
Warm-Up games generally fall into the following categories:
- Energy: If your students are feeling sluggish at the end of a long school day, these games will help to perk them back up. They focus on movement
- Focus: Focus games will help with that transition from “school mode” to “rehearsal mode,” retraining your students’ brains to hone in on the task at hand and on each other before you start your scenework.
- Morale: These are the games which most help to boost your students’ sense of working as a team. They also tend to be the “feel-good” games, which may not be as directly related to acting abilities, but which are part of what help your students think of rehearsals as a fun and exciting time.
- Improv: Improv games help to spark your students’ creativity.
- Cool–Down: Sometimes, after getting their energy up and their blood flowing, your students may find it difficult to settle back down and focus on their scenework. These activities will help center them on the work they have to do, but without sacrificing the energy you’ve just had them build up.
No list of theatre game warm-ups would ever be exhaustive. There are probably as many of them as there are drama clubs and theatre departments in the world. Here are just two of our favorites:
Categories: Energy, Focus
The idea of this game is to pass energy – and, in passing, build it.
- Have all of your students circle up.
- You or a designated starting student begins by saying “Zip” and pointing to another student in the circle.
- The pointing may be a more involved action than simply a finger point – such as sliding one palm against the other and then extending the arm entirely to indicate the recipient of the energy. This also makes a nice accompanying noise.
- That student must then say “Zap” and point to a different student.
- That third student must then say “Zop” and point to another student.
- That fourth student must then say “Zip” and point to another student.
- Gameplay continues in this fashion, rotating through Zip-Zap-Zop in order. If a student says the wrong word, fails to notice when he has been pointed at, fails to point at another student, or otherwise breaks the chain, he is eliminated.
- Continue until only two students remain. You can either declare them both champions, or else have them go through one final round.
Iambic Bodies Variant
- As above, with the following alterations:
- “Iamb”: Arm thrust (either direction). Applies only to the player to the immediate left or right of the speaker.
- “Irregular Line”: Arms overhead, the turn skips the next person in the circle.
- “Caesura”: Arms palm down in front of player, fingers linked. This motion change direction.
- “Enjambment”: Arms extended pointing at recipient (sending across the circle).
- “End stop” Arms bent at elbow, hands raised level to face. Used after “Enjambment.” Energy must re-direct, rebounds to deliverer, who must try someone else.
- You can’t End Stop an End Stop – i.e., no returning back to someone who returned the energy back to you.
- “Verse to Prose”: Everyone in the circle changes places with someone else. The energy remains with the same person, who may then Iamb again.
Categories: Focus, Cool-Down
- The entire group sits in a circle, holding hands, with their eyes closed.
- The idea is for the group to count to twenty, one person at a time (without simply going around the circle following the person next to them – the order must be random).
- Anyone can begin with 1. If two people say a number at the same time, the group has to start over from the beginning.
Some of your students may recognize some of these exercises from scouting groups, religious youth groups, sports teams, or other organizations they have belonged to. As your rehearsals go along, encourage them to introduce other games or exercises that they are familiar with and teach them to the group.