Film & TV

7 Acting Warmups, Games, and Techniques for Actors

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 16, 2019 • 5 min read

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Helen Mirren Teaches Acting

Acting is physical, vocal, mental and emotional work that requires preparation in order to operate at peak performance. An actor’s body and mind need to be warmed up in order to deliver their best to the audience.

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Helen Mirren Teaches ActingHelen Mirren Teaches Acting

In 28 lessons, the Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony, and Emmy winner teaches her process for acting on the stage and screen.

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What Are Acting Warmups?

Warmup routines, physical warmups, and warmup games are full-body physical, facial, and vocal exercises that help actors get ready to perform.

A good warmup will help you get into proper physical, mental, and emotional form to nail auditions and to work well with other actors onstage.

Why Are Warmups Important for Actors?

For an actor, a good warmup will help them relax, will help get rid of any anxieties, and will make an actor more limber up in preparation for the physical demands of a performance.

Drama games and acting exercises also help actors train their voice for performance, especially for actors who perform improv. Warmups are an essential part of any drama class and actors’ pre-performance routines.

7 Acting Warmups for Actors

Warmup routines do not need to take too much time, and they can be done either alone or with other actors.

  1. Work your neck. Roll your neck around forward, side to side, backward. Roll it around in one direction, then the other.
  2. Shoulders. Shrug your shoulders up, down, then roll them forward and backward.
  3. Circle your arms. Swing your arms in a circle in one direction, then the other, then in opposite directions.
  4. Stretch your ribs by raising your arms above your head, then leaning to one side, feeling the tension release on your ribcage. Hold for a beat, then return to the upright position and lean to the other side.
  5. Breathwork. Assume an erect posture, inhale deeply and slowly through your nose. Exhale slowly and deliberately through your mouth. Repeat a few times to slow your heart rate down and relax.
  6. Folds. Bend forward at the waist, dropping your head, with arms extended down, holding for 10. Then come back up all the way into a slight backward bend, holding for another 10 seconds. Repeat a few times until you feel your posture has improved.
  7. Shake everything out. Start shaking your hands, then your arms, then your entire body to release any lingering tension.
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3 Facial Warmups for Actors

Having an expressive face is key to good acting, especially if filming a close-up shot. Warming up and loosing your facial muscles can allow your face to be more expressive.

  1. Massage. Begin your facial warmups by massaging your face in slow, circular motions to loosen the muscles around your mouth, eyes, and forehead.
  2. Use the “lion/mouse” technique. Stand in front of a mirror and stretch all your facial muscles. Open your mouth wide, like a lion roaring. Then scrunch your face into a meek, small, expression, like a mouse. Switch back and forth.
  3. Stretch your tongue. Pull your tongue out, pull it down as far as you can, then up, then side to side. This will help you move your mouth and to enunciate and articulate.

6 Vocal Warmups for Actors

Your voice is your main instrument of expression as an actor, and warming it up will prevent damaging your vocal cords while helping you articulate your words.

  1. The “Hum.” Exhale slowly, humming until you have exhaled all of your air. Repeat approximately five times
  2. The “Ha.” Stand and place your hand on your abdomen. Breathe in by expanding your stomach outward; you are now breathing from your diaphragm. Exhale slowly, uttering, "ha ha ha ha." Push you abdomen in with every syllable. Repeat.
  3. Lip trills and flutters. Roll your tongue on the roof of your mouth to make “trr” or “rr” sound.
  4. Descending nasal consonants. Say the word “onion,” stretching the “ny” sound and voice it downward in pitch.
  5. Tongue twisters. Memorize a few of tongue twisters, like “red leather yellow leather” and repeat them to get your mouth loosened up.
  6. Yawn and sigh. Open your mouth as if to yawn and let your voice sigh loudly from the top of your register down to its lowest note.

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7 Acting Games and Warmup Techniques

Think Like a Pro

In 28 lessons, the Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony, and Emmy winner teaches her process for acting on the stage and screen.

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There are dozens of theater games and acting exercises actors can use alone or with others to get themselves ready. Here's a sampling of games taught by established acting teachers in the business.

  1. Energy Ball. Face a wall. Imagine that you’re holding an invisible ball with both hands in front of you. Now imagine that you’re gathering energy into the ball, feeling it throb and pulse as the energy grows. The energy becomes so intense you have to throw the ball against the wall. As the ball bounces back, lean in to catch it. Pitch it back forcefully. This game will focus your energy while also getting you moving.
  2. Reflection. Face your partner and try to get inside their head. Observe their movements closely. As they move, mirror their movements and facial expressions as exactly as you can in real time. Mirror their facial expressions.
  3. Theme song. If you’re prepping for a particular character, think of a theme song or music that captures their essence. Put it on while you warm up, playing it over and over again to get yourself into the character’s emotional space.
  4. Speed run. Take a scene you’ve prepared and perform it in normal time. Then repeat it, beat for beat, in double time. Then do it a third time, twice as fast again. You can do this exercise alone or with a partner if you have one.
  5. Receive and pass. This exercise is best done with a team of actors. Get everyone moving around a space. You make a clicking noise or utter a single word aimed at one of your partners. They must catch it, then pass it audibly to another person while continuing to move. Increase the speed at which the clicks pass from one actor to another.
  6. Character walk. This exercise is best done with other actors. Begin moving around the room. Observe one of your partners closely. Duplicate their walk as accurately as possible without exaggeration or parody. Feel the person behind the walk.
  7. Circle work. This exercise is a good warmup for an ensemble working on a particular production. The cast stands in a circle. Start in the middle of a line of dialogue from somewhere in the script that contains a cue for one of the other actors. That actor must play out the rest of the scene from the center of the circle. If the scene contains a cue to another actor, that person enters the circle. If not, another actor must come up with a new line with a new cue, and the process continues.

Want to Become a Better Actor?

Whether you’re treading the boards or prepping for your next big role in a film or television series, making it in show business requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No actor knows this better than the legendary Helen Mirren. In Helen Mirren’s MasterClass on acting, the Academy Award-winning actress shares the techniques she has learned through the course of her international career that has spanned stage, screen, and television.

Want to become a better actor? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master actors, including Helen Mirren, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and more.

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