Performers are athletes, plain and simple. Before athletes take the field, they have routines and warmups that they go through to get themselves primed for peak performance. As actors, you need to develop a toolbox for yourself that makes you feel ready to do your best work. If you’re going to singing auditions, hopefully you are in a habit of warming up vocally beforehand. (Find downloadable vocalises here.) But beyond stretching and vocalizing, the most important thing to you need to do is focus your brain on the task at hand. The following three drills are used by elite athletes as ways to get their heads in the game. Try them out and see how you feel at your next audition.
Body scan. The skill of reducing tension starts with developing body awareness, or proprioception. You will get the biggest “bang for your buck” in terms of tension release by focusing on the joints. The joints have what are called mechanoreceptors, which are designed to provide movement feedback to the brain. When a joint gets used to holding, these signals get blocked, and the surrounding muscles start to tighten as well. By doing a body scan of your joints, you can reduce the holding of the surrounding muscles and free up a lot more energy in your system. You can do this informally on your own, or click here to be guided through an example.
Bag-breathing. Have you ever wondered why people breathe into a bag when they are having a panic attack? It’s because carbon dioxide (CO2) calms us down; by recirculating the air in the bag, the amount of CO2 in the blood increases, and the brain chills out. By the way, the long exhalations that singing requires creates the same calm feelings, so there’s one more reason to sing every day!
Even if you’re not feeling panicked, bag-breathing can still do wonders for brain focus. Try it first with a lunch-sized paper bag. Seal it around your mouth and nose, and take slow breaths in and out, recycling the air in the bag. Try to go for at least a minute, and see how you feel afterwards. You can also do bag-breathing with a plastic bag from the grocery store. With plastic, it’s more intense, since paper still allows some air to flow through. Aim for a minute with the plastic bag, but if you start to hyperventilate, stop and allow your breath to recover. If bag-breathing is too much for you, try this breathing exercise instead.
Coordination charts. I’ve spent years of my life playing for auditions, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned involves how actors take in information. Once it’s down to a callback situation, the actors who booked the jobs are best able to assimilate the adjustments given to them by the creative team in a way that seems effortless. To me, that says that their brains are not threatened by new information. One of the best ways to achieve this freer mental state is through the use of coordination charts. By coordinating your eyes and your body before you perform, your sensory systems are more in sync, and you’re better able to handle whatever comes your way. You can find the instructions and downloadable coordination charts here and try it out for yourself.
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