Don’t you secretly wish you were a movie star?
From the time I was a tutu-wearing tot, I knew my calling: I was an actress.
So it came as no surprise to my parents when I told them I wanted to go to acting school.
It’s the starving artist’s life for me, and I have no regrets.
As you can imagine, having an MFA degree has led to unimaginable wealth, prestige and endless celebrity.
But, there are some serious benefits to acting training.
We all know how awesome it is to watch a great actor in action.
Oscar season has only just begun, and what better way to prepare for watching award-worthy movies and gearing up for February’s glamour than by getting inside the mind of the acting world?
Luckily, you don’t have to starve or spend three years crying on the floor in art school to get some insider secrets from the world of elite acting training.
I’m writing today to share some of the amazing life hacks we've learned.
These simple exercises can help boost your energy, improve your relationship with your body and give you new awareness and confidence in your everyday life.
From anxiety to body image and public speaking, think of these simple techniques as your new secret weapon to bring red carpet cool and award-winning poise into your life.
You too can act a little bit more like an Oscar winner.
Always remember the first rule of acting school: It’s okay to cry.
Just picture a room full of adults sobbing in piles on the floor, and you’re halfway through acting school already.
1. "Be on your breath."
The first time someone said this to me in acting school, I had absolutely no idea what he meant.
Now, I think I can translate for all the non-actors out there.
Be aware of your breathing.
Pay attention to your breath and its texture, its pace, its rhythm and its depth.
Don’t hold it. Exhale.
Let yourself inhale.
It’s very basic, but once you start listening to your breath, you’ll be amazed at how often you notice it going wacky.
Stress, feelings and physical strain are all kinds of things that can get us into our heads and out of breath.
Being “off your breath” can increase anxiety and make you feel emotionally scattered.
People around you may feel like you’re hiding something or are being insincere.
Work presentation? First date? Interview?
It’s very important to breathe.
Don’t worry; here’s a simple exercise you can do almost any time to reconnect with your breath:
Comfortably seated or standing, take a moment to adjust your posture so that your back is straight, your head is lifted and your chest is open.
Let your eyes soften or close. Exhale completely.
Then, slowly inhale to the count of four.
At the apex of your inhale, hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale slowly, also to the count of four.
At the bottom of your exhale, let your lungs stay empty and rest for the count of four before repeating the exercise.
You can repeat this exercise as long as you want.
Then, return to your natural breath and notice any differences.
I’ve found this simple exercise reduces anxiety, clears the mind and connects my voice more directly to my feelings, so that people understand me clearly when I communicate.
The benefit of taking a moment to notice your breath is amazing. It has a huge impact on your mental state.
Pro Tip: Yoga offers great techniques for breath awareness, and it is somewhat similar to things we learned in voice class.
Breath is very connected to your emotions and stress.
Sometimes, paying attention to your breath can bring up feelings or thoughts you’ve been trying to suppress, like your grief over the end of “Parks And Recreation.”
It’s okay to cry.
2. "Be in your body."
I know what you’re thinking: “Duh, how am I ever not in my body?”
Actors know there’s a big difference between having a body and inhabiting your body.
What do I mean by that?
Many of us go through life without really knowing or enjoying our bodies.
In acting school, we spent a lot of time training our bodies, minds and emotions to integrate.
The training was different from that of a marathon runner or hot dog eating contest winner.
Our focus was on using the body to engage both with external environment and internal life.
The way we did this was through a lot of physical work, which mostly reminded me of maniacs or children running amuck.
(A memory springs to my mind of a friend pretending to be a monkey and tackling me to the ground in acting class. Yes, we were both adults. Yes, we were probably crying.)
Exercise: Animal work.
Yes, this is a real thing that real actors do.
It’s exactly what you think, except it’s even more fun than you imagined.
Pick an animal — be it your favorite fuzzy YouTube hamster or the giant predator you’ve been obsessed with since third grade — and pretend to be that animal.
Do some research, read an article, watch some Animal Planet and study the way this animal moves, eats, communicates and sleeps.
At home, spend at least 15 minutes imagining you are that animal, and move around your room as if you were this animal.
How would this animal interact with your room? With food?
Enjoy your imagination.
Then, when you’re back in public, you can find subtle ways to move or think like this animal throughout your day.
You’ll find yourself paying attention to your body in new ways.
Your coworkers and friends may even compliment your “animal charisma.”
Pro Tip: There are more fun ways to get to know your body like an actor.
Sign up for a fun Alexander Technique class, take a Grotowski workshop or participate in any interactive, playful group exercise class like martial arts or dance.
Play some simple games throughout your day.
Brush your teeth and try to do little tasks with your non-dominant hand, try to walk toe to heel, see how many ways you can move your spine without moving your head and imitate the mannerisms of a stranger on the train (from a safe distance).
Don’t be afraid of feeling weird.
Exploring your body in space can be super fun.
You’ll feel like a kid at recess again for the first time in years.
3. "Free your voice."
Disclaimer: Voice work may be one of the more complex areas of acting.
Don’t hurt yourself.
Do check out this awesome summary of the technique we learned at my school.
Much like our breath and our bodies, our voices tend to be taken for granted.
I was amazed to find that voice class was usually the most emotionally difficult and rewarding.
Your voice is you, so don’t ignore it.
Take some time to get to know your voice, open your body and love your breath.
It’s an amazing way to get better acquainted with your awesome self.
Yeah, that’s it; it's just humming.
I’m not exaggerating when I say we spent a good month or two in voice class just making guttural sounds and hums instead of speaking.
Humming is a very simple, safe way to warm up your voice, and it also acts as an awesome stress-reliever.
Hum a simple scale up and down your vocal range, or hum your favorite tune.
If you can, flutter your lips like a tired toddler while you hum.
Feel free to sit, stand or move as your body wants as you hum.
You’ll feel like a million bucks.
Pro Tip: Read Kristin Linklater’s “Freeing The Natural Voice.”
4. Extra Credit Master Class
Did you try (and like) some of these exercises?
Try combining them.
Lay in savasana (relaxation pose from yoga) and alternate between our breath awareness exercise, flutter-lip humming and a body-scan relaxation exercise.
Mentally focus on each body part and intentionally release any tension.
See how long you can allow yourself to stay still, and what thoughts or feelings come up.
(PS: You wouldn’t be the first kid in acting school to fall asleep in a relaxation exercise. It’s cool. I won’t tell anyone.)
In summary, it’s okay to cry.
You now have learned some pro secrets from the sacred halls of acting school.
Use them wisely, and above all, play.
Enjoy getting to know yourself through your breath, body and voice.
Art is for everyone.
Even if your idea of getting creative is binge-watching “Dexter” on Netflix and heating up a pizza, these fun, simple tips from a master of fine arts in acting are life hacks you won't want to miss.
You don't need to be a Hollywood A-lister to benefit from these simple, fun techniques.