Further Lip Isolations

Lip Isolations

http://voiceguy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/cat_sneer.jpg[An earlier, more basic version of this exercise is available.]

Waking up the muscles of the face is a great task that helps prepare an actor for the work ahead, whether it be a rehearsal at home, in the studio with fellow cast-mates, an audition, or a performance. Today, we’ll explore the muscles that make up the lips, and allow us to articulate with the lips. Of course, your facial muscles are very important for expressiveness, too. It’s not that we want to be rubber-face expressive, but I do feel that awakening the facial muscles makes your face more available, should you be so inclined to respond with facial gesture.

Let’s begin with some simple isolations. Start by relaxing your jaw slightly. Apart from the part of your face that is moving, try to keep your face as relaxed as possible.
Note: many people do much better with these isolations when they’re done in a mirror. While mirrors aren’t all good, as they can lead to self-consciousness and an outside-in way of working, for these exercises, I feel that a mirror can be very helpful.

  • Lip Isolations: 
    • Lift your upper lip up and down, revealing your upper teeth. Do this 5X. Try to lift the whole lip, not just the corners (i.e. don’t sneer)
    • lower you lower lip down and up, revealing your lower teeth. Do this 5X.
    • alternate upper and lower lip, back and forth, 5X.
    • Keeping your jaw relaxed, lift and lower at the same time, showing both upper and lower teeth. Relax your face completely in between each time.
  • Sneering: 
    • Sneer with both corners of your upper lip;
    • sneer with one corner of your upper lip, whichever side is easiest;
    • sneer with the other corner of your upper lip. If you can’t do it without lifting the other, more dominant one, then try holding that one down with a finger until you can get the non-dominant one to work independently.
    • “Sneer” with the dominant corner of your lower lip. With the lower lip, try hard not to engage the “platysma” muscle that covers the outside of your neck—keep that part relaxed and only move your lip.
    • “Sneer” with the non-dominant corner of your lower lip.
    • pull both corners of your lower lip down.
    • now, sneer both up and down with all four corners of your upper and lower lips at the same time.
    • For bonus marks, sneer diagonally, with left upper and right lower lip corners, and then reverse with right upper and left lower lip corners. Usually one way is easier; going back and forth between the two diagonals is extremely hard!
  • Lip Sphincter: 
    • Draw your lips out into a big “kiss” shape;
    • spread your lips wide, out toward your ears.
    • now, alternate kissing and spreading, making sure to keep your jaw and other face muscles relaxed.
    • Contract your lip muscles to draw the edges of you lips in to make a “cat’s butt” shape;
    • alternate that with the “kiss” shape so that you are contracting inside of the orbicularis oris muscle (kiss) with the outside of the orbicularis oris muscle (cat’s butt).
  • Creature Crawl: 
    • Keeping your jaw relaxed and still, lift the centre of your upper lip. Then, as if a tiny creature was walking around the edge of your lips, raise (or lower when the creature gets to your lower lip) your lip to take him/her/it on the longest journey around your mouth possible.
  • Horror Film: 
    • Open your jaw wide, and then stretch your whole face and mouth as wide open as possible, as if you were screaming (but try to keep your neck muscles relaxed);
    • contract all the muscles of your face into a big knot, crushing it in toward the centre.
  • Fish-hooks: 
    • Without actually touching your lips, imagine hooking the corner of your mouth on one side and pull it toward your ear on that side;
    • now hook the corner of your lip toward the other side;
    • finally, hook both corners and spread your lips wide.
  • Lip Dance: This next step has 4 parts:
    • lift your upper lip up;
    • lift your lower lip up to meet it;
    • leaving your upper lip up; pull your lower lip down;
    • pull your upper lip down to meet the lower lip.
    • you can do this sequence to the tune of the Wheel of Fortune theme.
  • Shake it Out!: 
    • Final step—drop your head toward your chest and shake your face off! then slowly roll your head back up to balance on your neck.

Any of these exercises could be enough for a given task; you don’t have to do them all! Beware stretching your lips too extremely when your lips are dry and prone to cracking in the winter weather. Be sure to moisturize your lips (with Vaseline for best results) before you do this, or avoid extreme lips streches.

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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