How to Make the Most Of Your Warm-Up

If you’re a trained performer, you’ve probably learned numerous warm-up exercises, meant to stretch, expand, and prepare you. You may not, however, have thought about what these warm-ups really warm you up for.

Years ago, fully prepared after a 45-minute warm-up that included vocal and physical stretching and articulation exercises, I went in to audition for a contemporary film, playing a girl about my age—basically myself. The casting director watched my read carefully, looking somewhat confused. “Good,” she said, “but can you stop talking like that?” Like what? I had no idea what she meant. “Can you mess up your speech a little bit?”

Armed with my clean stage speech and ready to do Shakespeare on an outdoor stage, I missed the whole point of the warm-up (and the audition). Warm-ups are absolutely helpful—even necessary—but only if employed specifically to prepare for the job at hand. I used to scoff at actors who “warmed up” by taking a nap or smoking a cigarette. Now I understand that the Alexander Technique might not help you prep for your commercial callback. A good warm-up will get you into the physical and mental space to do your best work. But your best work playing a waiter in a David Fincher movie may require a different warm-up than your best work playing Richard III in Central Park.

Jackie Apodaca is an associate professor and the head of performance at Southern Oregon University.