Before we even look into the physicalisation of a role, it is important that you are fit, healthy, hydrated and warmed up. It is part of your role as an actor to be physically ready to work and this has to include these four steps.
You must be physically able to meet the demands of your work. In my natural habitat I resemble a human slow-loris; a sloth like creature that comes out of the warmth only to feed and engage with other sloths. In training and in working I’ve come to realise that the requirement for actors to be fit is not merely artificially on a surface level – it’s a crucial component of being able to work.
Being aesthetically acceptable for roles is an entirely different matter. All actors regardless of size or casting must be ready to work, run, skip, jump, dance. To maintain energy, movement, pace. This realisation came for me when I realised that one of the requirements for my ‘bucket-list shows’ required pretty specific upper body strength, and that in order to be seen for it and for others, I would have to build strength and improve my cardio fitness. All things that don’t come naturally to a slow-loris.
Eating, sleeping and breathing well. It’s important to look after what you put into the body. Sleep is probably most overlooked; it’s vital that you’re well rested and energised and are in a good place to begin work – a positive, open mind-set, willing to take on the physical challenges of a role.
3. STAYING HYDRATED
Drink a minimum of 2 litres per day, more when in rehearsals, during exercise or when drinking caffeine.
Simple as that.
The ultimate actors’ accessory is always a water bottle. For good reason too; it helps maintain health by allowing you to absorb vitamins and nutrients from your food better, as well as promoting better sleep and effective exercise.
4. WARMING UP
As covered by our E-book, the importance of warming up both the body and the voice cannot be stressed enough. All other components combine to allow you to physically prepare for a role in the long run, but in the short term, the immediate – the single most important thing you can do is warm up. Run, dance, stretch. Do whatever floats your boat and gets your heart beating.
Then warm up the body through breathing and breath-work, connecting to support and then moving onto warming up the voice; humming, sirening, singing. Perform enunciation, intonation, clarity exercises to help you be ready to speak.
Once these basics are in place, we can start looking at the actual physical preparation you should undergo for every role you get.
1. LOOK AT YOUR TEXT
Create nothing, deny nothing. What is in the text? Observe sentence length, grammar. Emotional journey. Emotional understanding, self-awareness. History, background.
First and foremost, examine the universal truths the writer has presented to you. Understand what this character does every day. How/when they get up. Where they get up. What fills their day. From the text understand what their routine is like and how it is similar or different to your daily routine.
Observation: go into the world and explore. Having found in the text the characters; age, sex, characteristics of language, habit, routine, roles – venture out and find them in your surroundings. This can be difficult. It might not work for you. People-watching, in observation mode, helps to cast your eye at others’ habitual behaviour outside of your own skin but still within the realm of that character. Where you find them; in books, film, portraits, on streets, buses, is irrelevant – it is the search that matters.
2. UNDERSTAND RHYTHM
Specifically the 5 rhythms – if you think of the first rhythm as almost breathing, just about conscious, and the fifth as euphoric, awesome, godly – explore reading and playing scenes from different rhythms. Playing around with the levels of rhythms for that character will allow you to understand more about their, and your, natural tempo.
3. ANIMAL STUDIES
Inspecting behavioural studies outside of our own natural bodies may feel like a step too far, but it is really helpful as an entry-point to remove yourself from your habitual patterns of physical behaviour. It’s also fascinating to scan a character study devoid of any language we can understand. Finding the inner and outer tempo in an animal study, understanding the focus and determination in acts such as eating, feeding, hunting will help you to explore where an animal can lead from e.g. beak, shoulders, head etc.
When back in our own bodies it’s interesting to scan through this ‘leading’ exercise – taking the focal point where a character’s energy is focused from and driving the focus through that point. This is so that the primary physical focus is on one spot – that all other movement is ciphered through this point eg; eyes, elbows, knees, chest.
4. A NOTE ON COSTUME
Costume plays a huge role in transforming what you’re able to do; whether you’re comfortable, at ease, exposed etc. If your character spends their days trawling in trackies ready for anything, it would be interesting to explore how they feel in a suit or dress. Not to juxtapose any kind of class association but to understand what they feel comfortable in, what they wear regularly and how they feel in it. Explore both sides of their coin and find them in more freeing and restrictive clothing in rehearsal.
Costume is icing on a cake. It helps unify many explorations and inform and embody discoveries and decisions. It is also a really quick tool to enable you to discard your own habitual dress sense. You can crawl into the layers of this other persons’ fleshy folds of clothing, finding their own ways of buttoning and lacing, flinging and scuffing, into their shoes onstage. Now ready to take their steps into the world.