Our body is our livelihood. We see the necessity in looking after our voices, wearing the right colours and perfecting our craft through countless workshops and fringe shows. However, underneath all of that is an assortment of muscles and bones that are controlled by an organ the size of our hand. Yet our perception of how our body looks, moves and feels in space is often so far from the reality. Which begs to question, as Actors that rely on their bodies more so then any other tool in our craft, how well do we know our body? and are we doing everything within our power to maintain and improve our primary tool of craft?
There are a multitude of ways we can influence the performance of our body, be it positive or negative, but there are only a couple of ways we can improve it; How we fuel it, and more importantly how we move it. To know how far to push yourself physically and mentally, and how your body reacts to such stimulus, is a massive step to correcting our perception of our body in space. This is why the apparent lack of exercise within the creative community astounds me. We all talk about living up to a certain potential we have, but I can guarantee most people don't know where their potential extends to, especially actors. Our talent can only take us so far, because determination and hard work will beat talent every time.
How can exercise help us, onstage and off:
This is an obvious, yet somewhat important part of undertaking exercise as an actor. The fact is casting agents are looking for a certain look, and the likely hood of that look being a clean-cut, fit man or woman is very high, because apparently that's what people want to see on their screens. That being said, they are also looking for a wide variety of faces and body shapes, but If your ambition is to be involved in high budget films and see yourself as the next wolverine, then the compositional benefits of exercise need to be a component of your practice.
It takes a long time to forge an action-hero worthy physique naturally, the sooner you get moving, the closer you will be to obtaining you dream role. Aside form looking appropriate, the benefits of exercise extend into a number of facets of your craft.
Exercise reduces anxiety, particularly prolonged cardiovascular exercise. I have been told countless times to get up early before an audition and go for a run. I never thought there was any benefit of exhausting yourself before an audition, until I concisely did it.
The body responds to exercise in so many ways, one of the most beneficial for an actor before an audition is
the hormonal and metabolic response. The prolonged stress stimulates the body to release 'feel good' hormones which act to relieve stress, fight anxiety/depression (after frequent exercise) and leave you with an 'exercise induced euphoria'. From personal experience this euphoria make you feel like a king. Exercising before an audition shakes off those nerves and solidifies your preparation, try it. Please.
Frequent exercise has be proven to have a positive effect on memory, academic focus/execution and stamina. All these things are essential to a good performance.
Towards the end of a show season it's common to find yourself lethargic and unenergised. This is due to the adaptation of the performance adrenaline, and also because acting is hard man. Completely immersing yourself into a world that demands you to move, speak, sing and dance in a certain way every night is exhausting, physically and mentally.
Incorporating a character specific exercise regime into your rehearsal preparation will benefit you greatly come opening night. For instance, a character that has sudden, jerking movements could use certain exercises and workouts that perpetuate this movement pattern. This would see your stamina and endurance increase, sustaining you not just through your performance, but through your season.
Along with character specific training, the exercise will encourage cognitive brain function, keeping you focused during rehearsals and making you more likely to remember to move downstage right when Mercrutio collapses.
The feeling of euphoria after exercises is unique. The only other instance I have felt anything similar to that feeling is on opening night, just before you step onstage. The correlation and similarities are justified, as your body is reacting to two seemingly different stimuli in a seemingly similar way.
I have been incorporating my fitness training into my rehearsals for only a short time, but have witnessed first hand the effect it can have.
Rehearsing while exercising breaks the habitual movement patterns, finds and solidifies shift changes, drops your voice and best of all, it finds the fire within the text. Doing stair sprints while reciting Henry IV is strange, and people will think your psychotic, but you will never find the truth depth of a piece without getting your body moving the same pace as your thoughts. You will be exhausted afterwards, but this euphoria will transcend your monologue into place you will otherwise never discover.
The human body was designed to move. If you are not moving enough you are depriving yourself of one of the most dynamic, rewarding and utterly beneficial activities you can experience.
If you don't know where to start feel free to drop me a line, It's not about drastic and immediate life changes, it's about being the best man/woman you can be. Get moving yo.