The Boring Bits – breathing exercises.
Doing breathing exercises are scarcely the most exciting activities in the world, but they are absolutely essential if you are to become a trained actor, one who can turn their hand to any role, no matter how challenging.
There are three kinds of breathing exercises that are essential to your development. While I will describe them here, I will not give precise instructions about how to go about them. There are two reasons for this. First any individual may have a medical condition that requires breathing exercises to be carefully monitored. Second, the actual number of seconds of inspiration and exhalation, (breathing in and out) will initially vary from one individual to the next, and so will require the presence of e teacher to ensure that the whole process proceeds in the optimum manner.
1. Equal breathing. This exercise does not contribute directly to training the voice, but introduces the trainee to the idea of breath control, and is nevertheless a very valuable skill to learn for its beneficial effect on daily living.
2. Diaphragm breathing. Lay on your back, with your knees up and together and your feet placed apart on the floor/ Place your hand, exerting just a little pressure on the your stomach just where it starts under the ribs. This is actually your diaphragm, and you can draw air into it through exercise. When you go out on stage, you should fill up your lungs and then your diaphragm. From that point the only breath you should use for speaking your role should come from your diaphragm, unless you have a very long speech which calls on a reserve of air from your lungs.
3. Rib reserve. Stand with your fee parallel and just in line with your shoulders. Place one hand firmly on the bottom part of your ribs and try to draw in the breath by expanding your ribs where you are exerting the pressure. Eventually, after practice, you will be able to draw quite a lot of air into this part of your ribs. As indicated above, before you go out on stage you fill your diaphragm and your ribs with air, but generally only use the breath in your diaphragm for saying your lines. You only need to use the breath stored in your rib area when you have a particularly long speech, or a very emotional scene requiringing a very loud voice and lots of breath. Otherwise the breath stored in your rib area is kept in reserve for such an occasion. This is why it is called rib reserve.
REMEMBER: I have simply described the kind of breathing skills a trained actor needs to acquire, and the general method of acquiring them. You should only begin to train yourself under the guidance of a speech teacher, or a drama teacher who has been trained in speech. In that way you won’t get into trouble.
Breathing exercises only take about 15 minutes a day, but they need to be done every day for a long time until you have developed the appropriate skills and capacity. Doing them can be tedious, but hey, not every part of learning the actor’s craft has to be exciting. It is just that when you have acquired the necessary level of skill and capacity, including being able to control your breath, then these skills become just one of the tools you take with you the next time you go to work – on stage.