On Preparing for the Stage
In advising the TEDx VennelystBlvd team to put on the first TEDx event in Aarhus, Denmark, I was privileged to also advise the TEDx speakers. In doing so, I also got to join them rehearse before the event, including voice warmups. I’ve been “on stage” many times, and I have my own “procedures” to prepare myself mentally, but I’ve never considered doing voice warmups. I wish I’d known about these exercises when I was teaching. The first day of teaching after a long break was tough on my voice, because I’d forgotten how to project and speak for a long time.
The exercises were led by the fabulous Fabienne Pauly, whose theater, media, and teaching expertise create an experience beyond warming up the voice, but also addressed mental peace and concentration.
Here are some of the exercises I learned (I gave them names so it’s easier to refer to them). We did them as a group, but one can adjust them for solo purposes.
- Name Toss
- Name Circle
- Stand in a circle. The leader starts by saying the name of another person in the circle. That named person then names another person in the circle (not yet named).
- The last person to be name says the leader’s name. Repeat in the same order.
- Name Walk
- Continue to do the Name Circle but by walking around the room (preferably the place where you will be for the real performance), taking care to not leave big spaces in the room.
- Mimic the leader’s way of projecting the name: if she whispers it, you whisper; if she shouts it, you shout it out.
- Name Point
- After a couple of rounds of the above, stop at the end of the round, and the leader asks to close everyone’s eyes. She then asks you to point at a specific person. Then you open your eyes to see how accurate you were.
- Repeat another round, where the leader picks another person’s name to point to. (This exercise develops concentration.)
- Group Counting
- The leader starts off the count (i.e., says “one”), and someone else in the circle has to follow the count (i.e., “two”), but you must take care to not have multiple people saying the same number. If multiple people call out the number, the leader starts the counting from one.
- Yawn Tone
- Yawn Pitch
- Start to yawn with mouth wide open, while saying “ah”. The pitch slowly comes down as you yawn and it will get to a comfortable place. Hold the pitch there and keep saying “ah”. Breathe in again if you run out of breath at that same pitch.
- Repeat the yawn.
- Yawn Circle
- Do the Yawn Pitch but in a circle, and as the pitch lowers, move into the circle, and then move out.
- Vowel Enunciation
- Vowel Exaggeration
- Pronounce the following letters clearly: “a, e, i, o, u, y”
- Take note to exaggerate the mouth movements, as they should be quite distinct from each other. Repeat.
- Vowel Blend
- Repeat the above but blend the vowels so that there is no break in between for 3 rounds in one breath (but still ensure that the mouth movements are very distinct from each other).
- Facial Movements
- Tongue and Mouth
- Move the tongue within your mouth to go around all your teeth on the back side and the front side
- Move your jaw to open up the mouth
- Massage the face: temples, jaw bones, etc. to loosen these areas.
My own preparation includes “being in character”: what kind of person am I when I am on stage? For example, if it is meant to be an inspiration speech, I would want to be warm and empathetic but also passionate. If I am relaying some technical information, I would want to be firm and competent. I learned this following trick from a former colleague who took an acting seminar where the instructor mentioned that “being in character” comes from knowing their “walk”. My exercise is:
- Stage Posture
- Imagine the kind of person you want/need to be on stage
- Figure out what kind of posture that person would have
- Assume that posture before going on stage
Photo: a cafe in San Francisco, California