Sustaining Breath

Be sure to begin with some physical warming up, whether it be some yoga stretches, a light jog around the room, some pliés, what have you, to get your body going. You should also start with some Roll-downs, if you haven't already.

We'll include a few roll-downs in this step of the warm-up, so be sure to learn how to do a roll-down before we start.

Begin by Noticing

Stand in alignment, with your feet, ankles and knees balanced one above the other, your knees unlocked, your shoulders wide across the back and front, your neck lengthening up, your jaw relaxed so you can easily breathe through your mouth. You can work with eyes open or closed on this one; closed eyes often allow people to check in with their inner life, while open eyes forces you to deal with your inner life and the real world at the same time (which is what you have to do an actor most of the time anyway…).

Notice your breath, what it wants to do. Don't do anything about it, just let it be. Feel how breath enters your mouth, floats over your tongue, turns the corner, and heads down into your body. Do all you can to avoid planning your breath. Let your breath take you, so that you follow your body's impulse to breathe, rather than making it do something else. You may notice that when you notice your breath, it is changed somewhat. There mere suggestion of thinking about your breath may cause it do change in response to that thought. If at all possible, explore the idea of not choosing to breathe, but allow breath to be entirely impulsive. In this way, conscious breathing becomes a process of getting out of the way of breath, rather than planning, or choosing to breathe. Give over to the breath impulse, and see where it takes you.

Resistance Isn't FFFutile

Once you're into this impulsive breath mode, on the next exhalation, bring your lower lip up to meet your upper teeth, so you end up making an /f/ sound. As you inhale, release the contact between lip and teeth to let the air in, and then on the outward flow of breath, reconnect to the /f/ posture of lip and teeth. The /f/ friction will give some resistance to the outward going breath, so that your breath will naturally begin to last a bit longer. As you do this, it's important not to force your breath into a rhythm. Continue to follow your impulse for breath. Expect there to be a short pause between the exhalation /f/ and the next breath-impulse .

As you become comfortable with the easy /f/ breath, begin to lengthen the /f/ sound with each breath. Let the change in length from one /f/ to the next be very slight. You want a very gradual shift, slowly letting the exhalation sustain further and further. By lengthening the /f/, your need for breath will become stronger over time, so that you will find your body craving more air on the inhalation (so you'll fill up more), and emptying yourself out as your exhale. As the /fffff/ gets longer and longer, the pause between exhalation and inhalation may begin to shorten as well. Don't make that happen, but if you notice it happening, that's ok. What's important here is to increase your need for air, while continuing to follow your impulse for breath.

Say Something

Acting is about communication. Anytime you make a sound in an exercise, whether it be a simple sigh, or a puff of air on /f/, or a articulation drill, be sure to communicate something to your someone. If you're alone, imagine someone. Or you could talk to the furniture. The one thing you mustn't do is talk to a mirror. This only helps to make your self-conscious, and aware of your outside appearance, and we care about your inner life. So be sure to connect with your thoughs, feelings and impulses as you make these sustained /fffff/ sounds.

At this point you might try "fuffing" your breath on several pulses per breath, as if you were speaking, with one pulse of air for every syllable. This is similar to what we did with the Taking-it-to-Text step of the Basic Warm-up Series, except that you're improvising what you're saying, not speaking a text.

Fuff'n'Roll

The last step of the process is to bring your body into the mix by doing a roll-down as you fuff. Start by taking 3 or 4 fuffing breaths to roll down, and then another 3 or 4 to come up. Gradually speed up the roll-down process until you're rolling down on one /f/, letting breath fill into your belly, and rolling back up on a second /f/. You can even try rolling down and up quickly on /f/. Here, let breath fill down into your belly and then drop your head and begin to /f/ simultaneously as your roll quickly through your spine, coming back up as you run out of air.

Next Step: Dabs of Sound

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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