Being a working actor or actress means having to continually work on sharpening and upgrading your skills. Working with others in a group acting class is a great way to polish your skills, but if you don’t have access to classes, there are plenty of ways you can work on your craft by yourself. Here are a few solo acting exercises you can do alone.
Would an athlete play a sport without warming up their body first? Neither should an actor attempt to use their voice without first warming it up. Different types of vocal exercises work out your voice in different ways. Mix and match from the list below to create your own short warm-up routine. You can then use it before a show or anytime you need to warm-up your voice.
Lip Trills. Close your mouth and pretend to blow bubbles. Take deep breaths and focus on relaxing your lips and jaw. This exercise is great for breath control and facial relaxation.
Yawning & Sighing. A big yawn naturally helps you take in air and relaxes your throat. Take a deep breath and open your throat to start a yawn. Add a vocalization on the exhalation starting high and sliding down. Make sure to use up all your breath!
Humming. Humming is a great way to warm up your voice and it’s gentle on your vocal chords. Take a deep breath and hum as you slowly exhale. Take note of the vibration the humming creates in your whole body and use this as a check-in for any tension you may be holding in your body.
Tongue twisters. Search up some tongue twisters and practice saying them. For added challenge, increase the speed. Focus on your diction and try over annunciating.
Read Scripts / Cold Reading
Reading plays should always be an essential part of every actor’s routine. It will help you familiarize yourself with a variety of writing styles and writers, as well as strengthen your analytical and dramaturgical skills.
Try picking up any script and assigning yourself a character. It doesn’t matter if you’re “right” for the role – in fact, the further the role is from your experience, the better! Choose a child, an elderly character, someone whose life experience is vastly different from your own. What can you bring to the role?
Make sure you’re clear on who your scene partner is, what your character wants in the scene, and how you’re going to go about getting it. And make sure to read the scene out loud. This will help you develop your cold reading skills, but it will also force you to use your body and voice. You can find some more tips on improving your cold reading skills here.
A great way to analyze your own technique and monitor your progress is to record yourself. Choose a scene, side, or monologue and record yourself performing it. Watch it back and look for places to improve your work. Things to look for: tone of your voice, diction, eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. While watching oneself objectively can be a challenge, it’s a great way to identify potentially bad habits and work towards improving them.
Record a single scene multiple times changing one aspect each time. For example, play with altering your focus, or changing your tone of voice. Note how changing one part of your performance changes the whole scene.
How a character carries themselves says a lot about who they are. Create a character who moves through space in a different way than you do. Do you tend to slouch? Create a character who walks very erect. Do you “bop” as you walk? Try gliding instead. Try walking focusing on putting different parts of your body first, for example, try walking with your head leading your body. Now switch to walking with your pelvis leading your body. How does this change make you feel? What kind of character would use which kind of walk?
Another variation of this exercise is to try sitting in a chair as different kinds of characters. First, sit down in a chair and close your eyes. Become aware of your body and how you are sitting. Next, adjust how you’re sitting. For example, try changing your leg position or lengthening your back. How does changing your body position make you feel? Ask yourself, “what kind of character might sit this way?” Try standing up and then sitting down as that character.
Write Your Own Material
While it may not be your goal to be a playwright, writing your own material can help you as a performer in several ways. In creating your own structure you’ll be forced to confront basic rules of dramaturgy and composition. In performing your own work you will be able to discover ways into the material because of your intimate knowledge of the writing. What you learn from performing your own work can then be transferred to working on the writing of others.
Need help getting started? Check out these playwriting prompts.
Read Acting Books
There are many great books on the craft of acting. While reading is not the same as doing, you can gain valuable knowledge and tips from reading about the experiences of others. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen, An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky, and Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner are three classic books to start with. Biographies of great actors can also be a great resource, as well as those of other theatre creators such as directors and writers. Keep a notebook and write down any tips or exercises that you might want to try. Most actors learn their craft from multiple teachers and sources so if something sounds like it might be helpful to you, take note!
While nothing can replace the experience of the work you do in an acting class, you can learn a lot by working on your craft by yourself. You’ll be able to spend time focusing on the areas where you feel like you need improvement and adjust the exercises based on your own needs. You can then bring this self-knowledge into an acting class to further develop your craft when working with others.