Being CREATIVE is one of the most exciting things we can do!
Stretching one’s imagination to go beyond the boundaries of every day and seek out new and meaningful ways to use not just our brain but all of our being. Our mind, soul and body in tandem. Acting is a wonderful way for many of us to step outside of ourselves and take on a completely different persona. One we may never have anything in common with. By stepping out of our world and into our character’s we become one with the emotions, actions and everyday experiences they have. Learning to open up so we experience vulnerability, pain, ecstatic joy or fear can be incredibly difficult. Letting go of our inhibitions and taking that GIANT leap of faith. One of the best ways to allow ourselves the freedom to think and perform outside our comfort zone is by learning techniques and exercises that teach us to grow. One of the things I found most difficult beyond the above mentioned was the repetition. Initially, I thought it was a complete waste of my time to be doing what appeared on the outside to be stupid games. mouth noises, breathing exercises and stretches over and over and over again. I just wanted to get onto the good stuff and ACT! After a few years, I came to realize just how important these exercises were and how even today some 30 years into my career I still use a number of them as warm-ups before a show. Acting exercises are one of the most important training tools in our acting arsenal. I recommend you work on these daily with a fellow actor, a family member or friends and see how quickly you begin to sharpen skills and hone your craft. Some are games to heighten your awareness, concentration, and body movement, while others are more complex. All are designed to improve your acting abilities.
ACTING EXERCISES TO START
Two people are selected. Everyone else thinks up a scenario for them and a letter to start with. They then create a scene, using each letter of the alphabet.
For example: If A is the letter chosen, the first line of the scene starts with A. The next line starts with the letter B and so on. The idea is to make it through all 26 letters without repeating one or losing concentration. If you want to make it harder, add more actors.
Result: This exercise forces the actor to think on his feet and use concentration to remain focused on the scene while being creative.
ZIP ZAP ZOP
Gather everyone into a circle. One person starts by clapping his hands at another and saying “Zip.” That person immediately responds by clapping his hands at another and saying “Zap.” Again, that new person now claps at yet another and says “ZOP.” The process repeats over and over, getting faster and faster, until someone says the wrong word, or hesitates for more than 5 seconds. That person is then eliminated from the circle. The last student standing is the winner. To make it more difficult you can add hand gestures or foot movements instead of clapping. Example: ZIP – Right-hand waves while person steps to the front ZAP – Left-hand waves while person steps to the back ZOP – Both hands wave in the air while person turns around in a circle.
Result: This exercise is great for concentration, eye contact, and acting on impulse. Also, a great way to let go of one’s tension and stress before a performance. (We used this with our cast before every show)
Great Improv exercise.
Two people improvise a scene suggested by another. After a minute or so, someone calls out “Freeze!” The two people freeze in their pose. Another person replaces one of the others, assuming that same pose. That scene must now begin with the new person.
Result: This exercise explores an actor’s physical world and how it relates to the moment. It also stretches one’s imagination.
Two people improvise a scene where the all lines must be questions. If someone hesitates or fails to ask a question, another student takes their place. The scene continues.
Result: This game forces a student to think on his feet and trust their instincts.
The class or instructor make up the last line of an imaginary scene. The scene must then be improvised from the end to the beginning. To make it harder, add more actors.
Result: This exercise forces an actor to think on their feet and uses their imagination to create a scene that has already taken place. This is a great way to let have an actor explore why the last line was said.
One student plays the host of the party. Three other students are each given a weird quirk. (For example, “one holds the hand of another actor all the time”.) One by one, others enter as guests at the party. The Host has to guess each guest’s quirk.
Result: Each person has to get their quirk across using only their behaviour and actions. While speech can be used one can never directly say: My quirk is…
The person will play out their morning routine as if they were alone. Wake up, brush and floss, call a friend, make their bed, etc. It should be as close to reality as possible. Props can be added if needed.
Result: Public solitude is the artificial sense of privacy. People do not behave the same way if they know other people are watching. The goal of this exercise is to go through routine tasks as if they are alone and forces the actor to move outside their comfort zone.
Two people stand or sit, facing each other. One makes a simple observation about the other: “You’re wearing a blue shirt.” The other simply repeats it: “I’m wearing a blue shirt.” They repeat that same statement until they feel they have to change the statement.
“Stop looking at my shirt!”
“Stop looking at your shirt?”
And so on. They must keep repeating. Don’t let them stop and think of something to say, just repeat. This is a simplified exercise from the Meisner Technique
Result: Repetition helps a student to “get out of their head.” They must act on impulse instead of logic. It also trains one to pay acute attention to their scene partner.
INDIVIDUAL SCENES & HOMEWORK
Observe a complete stranger for few minutes. Describe his or her behaviour. Are they sitting, standing, walking? Who do you think they are? How are they feeling? What are they doing? Reading a book, waiting for someone, having a conversation? (Note: Don’t let them notice you. There has to be no interaction or eye contact)
Result: Acting is behaviour. Nothing more. The better you become at reading someone else’s behaviour, the more keenly you will react to it.
YOUR THEME SONG
Do you have your character sussed out? Once you do choose a theme song for your character. Is it classical, or contemporary? Does it have lyrics, or is it instrumental? Is it fast, or slow? If your character were a piece of music, what would they sound like?
Result: A simple yet effective acting exercise. After you’ve chosen a piece of music, play it just before your performance to help you get into the head-space of your character
CIRCLE OF CONCENTRATION
Immediate Circle: Choose a location and get comfortable. Imagine that there’s a circle around you, about 10 feet in diameter. Your task for the next five minutes is to concentrate only on the objects within that imaginary circle. How would they feel, or smell? How heavy are they? What colour?
Intermediate Circle: The rules are the same, but the circle enlarges. This time it’s the whole room. Do another five minutes.
Distant Circle: You might want to go outside for this one. Now the circle is as large as a house. Do another five minutes.
If your attention moves outside the circle, gently move it back. Don’t feel discouraged. Not only is it unhelpful, it isn’t within the circle. So you’re not allowed to think about it.
Result: Concentration is very important for an actor. When playing a scene, you must reject the stimuli you’re experiencing in favour of the stimuli of the character. In other words, you must see what your character sees.
Research your character’s life. Down to the last detail. How old are they? What do they do for money? Where do they live? What color fingernail polish do they wear? Are their parents alive? If not, what happened? Write everything down. Be specific.
Result: Not so much an acting exercise, more like homework. But the more you discover about your character’s circumstances, the better you are able to answer the question: “If I were this character, how would I behave?”
Right now, vividly recall an event from your character’s past. See it play out in front of you like a movie scene. Be specific. As the scene plays out, move from the third person to the first person. Put yourself in the scene. Become your character.
Result: This acting exercise will help you to “own” your character. Their experiences become your experiences. It’s also quite a workout for the imagination.
Acting exercises are a key to success for any actor. They keep your mind and body sharp during those times when you’re not working. Hopefully, you’ll use some of these and apply them to your craft. Feel free to share this with another actor…
Revised from Acting Exercises for Students and Other Beginners (AceYourAudition.com)
Photo Credit Haiku Deck