Specifically, today I want to discuss the reasons why a performance group should always warm up together. The Group Warmup.
Anyone who has ever experienced a bad group warmup will want to escape now. Please don’t. Please stick around. Warm ups are like meals. A tough, over-cooked (or soggy under-cooked) one can put you off forever, because it leaves you with nothing but a bad taste and spoils your appetite for the rest of the day. A delicious, tasty, nutritious one leaves you satisfied and enthusiastic to face whatever the day may bring.
Bad warm ups can be boring, repetitive or disorganised with no sense of WHY. Running a sequence of stretches and vocal exercises just for the sake of doing them is NOT a group warmup. It’s a sequence of stretches and vocal exercises. It might get you, the individual, warmed up, but it does nothing for group cohesion, for establishing a collaborative framework that sets up the group for a successful collaborative, creative project – rehearsal or performance.
Effective group warm ups include exercises that are specific for the task about to be undertaken, and it is imperative that everyone in the group knows exactly what each exercise is for and why it has been included in the sequence. Everyone in the group must take responsibility for their own, and for the group’s engagement. No leaders, and no followers. The warmup is something you do together, simultaneously, so you can’t hang back and always rely on someone else to remind you what comes next.
Treat the warmup as an acting exercise, because that is what it is. You and your colleagues are practising making something together, something you value, something you want to share with each other, and with an audience. Every instant within the warmup is to be lived, inhabited, to the full, and then allowed to pass because the next instant is upon you, and it has to be experienced to the full. This is marvellous training for being on stage, or in front of the camera. ‘Being in the moment’ is not something you just switch on as you walk on stage. It requires skill, and you only get to be skilled at something by practising it regularly. If you are performing on stage with other performers, supported by a stage management and technical team, you have to practise being in the moment together, all of you (YES, that includes the SM and tech people too! Any theatre company that aspires to work as an ensemble should be warming up ensemble – i.e. together.)
Here is my list of all the elements that you are warming up:
- your whole body – including muscles, joints, organs, blood vessels, breath flow and vocal apparatus
- your intellect – powers of concentration, specificity of thought processes
- your imagination – creating powerful reasons for each action and interaction, integrating the work you are doing on your character/s and relationships with other actors/characters
- your community – which includes your colleagues, the characters in the play you are rehearsing, and your audience (real and imagined}
When all of these elements are developed together playfully and skilfully, you will complete the group warmup in a state of readiness, of active and creative anticipation for the work you are about to embark upon. When you go onstage after a really well-designed, integrated, thoroughly engaged warmup, your audience receives the gift of your actual total presence – they sense it before they see or hear you. What A Joy!
Next time, I’ll set out some of my favourite warm ups for group work. You will also find exercises and sequences that work for personal and for group work in the Being in Voice app, available in the iTunes App Store.