AIS #2 - Warmup

The Art of Intentional Spontaneity begins in - and through - the warmup. In AIS, to warm up is to begin to depart from “casual everyday mode”, the automated, fixed, defensive and protective control of behavior part and parcel of living. To warm up is to pause our necessary control systems; is to carefully move us from our set, established horizons; is to move us beyond our own very circumscribed perception of the human condition.  

I see warming up as very similar to getting ready for any sporting activity. With AIS, warmup activities are not only to loosen the joints but also to loosen set physical, vocal and emotional patterns. To loosen our “identifiable characteristics”: the firmly grounded familial, local, cultural and national patterns we embody. Most of the time these patterns are learned over many, many years. They are well-practiced and automated. They make us acceptable to the societies we belong to. Since birth, we are continuously taught self-regulation, according to the rules and customs and laws of our society. We learn to control our behavior, emotions and even thoughts.  

For actors to freely access the imagination (Saul 2002, pp.115-162) as well as the multifarious ‘plural self’ within (Frost and Yarrow 2007), warmups need to be intensive. Much more intensive than is often the case. Our automated control systems are usually so very strong that they become embedded in most every aspect of our life. It takes a really concerted, persistent effort to free ourselves from these Gulliverian bonds. Voice and emotion and space awareness (movement) all need to be warmed up - tuned up. The idea is to stretch and magnify vocal and physical expressions to the point of losing habitual/automatic control of behaviour patterns. 

When we are about to lose control stage fright or anxiety tends to be always present. Yet moving beyond these is essential to be able to start rehearsing as an actor. To prepare to go beyond the limits of our own well established, automated behaviour modes, to free ourselves from the clutches of anxious self-consciousness, an intensive group warmup is vital, if not essential. Such warmups get us ready to be able to explore what's beyond our preconditioned patterns. The leaving behind of casual everyday mode also helps eliminate “unwanted shadow” movements, that is, movements from the habitual self of the performer which impinge on the world apart entered into rehearsal and performance.3  

Why group warmups? It is like team sport. You can and should do exercise on your own to keep fit and healthy. But in team sports, the players warming up together is essential for practicing the requisite skills. Theatre is a communal art. It is an ensemble activity even when we are behind a one person show. Group warmups help us sharpen and strengthen our communal performance making skills. They help us exercise our instruments, help us to practice and to extend the range of the vocal, physical and emotional scales we play. Practicing exclusively on our own means missing out on the team or ensemble aspect of acting, including interplay with others such as working on text or devising. Active team membership is a fundamental dimension of shared targets in performance.  

Obviously, acting warmups have a range of purposes. From the point of view of the Art of Intentional Spontaneity their chief purpose is to prepare actors to lose themselves in the activity. The rich corpus of theatre games can be mined for exercises to help students get carried away. Games can be reinvented, adjusted again and again for the purpose of taking actors to 'breaking out' points: breaking out laughing, breaking out crying, breaking out shouting. Breaking out of norms of everyday control. Such activities warm the strings of our instrument, namely our voice, our movements, our manner. The target is that we become less defensive and more playful. The aim is to reach the level of free-flowing child’s play, that is, uninterrupted involvement in action. This approach helps warm up body, mind and emotions for the transformations we will undergo.  

A good warmup tunes us into our senses and feelings. Akin to playing the scales on any musical instrument, in free-flowing child’s play mode, the social and physical expression of emotions should be practiced intensively. “Scales” is here used in context of any system of music: ascending and descending notes, levels of pitch and so on. The concept of scales guides and helps the actors to more fluently move up or down or across and to expand their expression of emotions. Players should exercise, explore and stretch their range. In regular training sessions, the range of playable scales should be extended across vocal, physical and emotional registers. 

Warm-ups should also establish an up-on-the-feet culture, one where actors are not “propping up” their bodies. Actors need to be in a state of full bodied, wholehearted readiness.  

Let’s highlight space awareness, of which there are two aspects, each as important as the other. First, the size of the rehearsal or working space needs to be adequate. We need to be able to physically stretch our range and explore. And we need to be able to do these things without interference, interruption or any attached anxiety. Second, a careful measure of here and now perceptual awareness of the room and of the other bodies in it is vital. This awareness is demanding. In and of itself it takes up a considerable part of our attention, thereby helping to free our consciousness of our everyday concerns and habits and preparing the way for us to stretch our senses. 

The kind of warm-up is guided by the group dynamic present. That is to say, the director should seek a very clear idea and feeling of how the group is made. Reading a group for a director or teacher is having a highly trained, empathetic take on the individuals who make it up. The gender mix, age mix, experience patterns, class, education, personality traits…. how to read a group is a book! So, in brief simplicity, I would say ‘read the group you are going to work with - and then decide the content of your warmup’. Don’t just decide on the warmup before you meet and assess your group. Offer 'courses for horses'. 

Bear in mind that, with insufficient warming up, the doors to intentional spontaneity will not open. Our faculties, our voice, movement, emotion will not gain freedom from tightly held, immaculately defended patterns of presentation of self in everyday life (Goffman 1971). If the process of 'warming up' is limited or prematurely concluded, then we will still be caught up in and impeded to a degree by self-consciousness. Unsatisfactory, incomplete warmups lead to frustrated, 'caught in between' actors and directors and limit our exploration beyond our boundaries, generating unsatisfactory outcomes and probably confusing actors and directors alike. 

In conclusion, I don't think enough can be said about warming up and its central place.  The importance of purposefully conducted warm-ups for AIS cannot be overstated. Warmups are paramount.  Good warmups initiate an essential gateway state of being for what is to come.  

Extract from ‘The Art of Intentional Spontaneity’ by GJ Kalic.