An actor’s voice is one of the most important tools in their toolbox. Below, voice teacher and instructor at A.C.T.’s San Francisco Semester Jessica Berman shares five tips for taking care of your vocal instrument.
1. Focus on posture and alignment, especially when speaking online.
Hopefully the days of spending hours on Zoom will soon be behind us, but in the meantime, if you find that your voice feels fatigued after long stretches of vocal use online, take a moment every 30–60 minutes to do a little physical reset. You can:
- Drop down your spine so that your whole upper body is hanging from your tailbone (you can do this seated or in standing)
- Shake out your shoulders
- Gently roll your head and neck around
- Give your arms and legs a little pat and notice the sensations that you feel in your body
As Kristin Linklater says in her book Freeing the Natural Voice, “The efficiency of the vocal apparatus depends on the alignment and posture of the body and the economy with which it functions.” Quick physical resets can help to keep your voice connected to your breath, grounded, and strong.
2. Use steam.
Using a steam inhaler is one of the best things you can do to hydrate your voice. It is an essential tool for maintenance, or for voices that are fatigued, over used, or if you’re dealing with illness. You can purchase a personal steam inhaler at most drug stores, or simply pour boiled water into a cup or bowl and place your nose and mouth over it, inhaling normally (be very careful not to burn yourself!). Be sure to wait an hour or so after steaming before using your voice at full force to allow the vocal folds to cool down.
3. Always warm up, even if you’re limited by time.
Even taking a few minutes to connect to your breath, shake out your body, release some easy, open vowel sounds (try “ahh” or “hey”), and flutter the lips can make a big difference to your long-term vocal health.
4. Warm down.
We know that it’s good for our vocal health to warm up, but we often forget about the benefits of warming down. Especially after a very vocally demanding performance or speaking engagement, or even just a long day of talking, warming down helps us to release physical tension and re-center. It can be brief—consider a few minutes of fluttering the lips, gentle humming, and lying down on the floor to connect to the breath and release muscular tension.
It’s simple yet extremely effective for opening up and creating space at the back of the mouth and relaxing the throat.
Jessica Berman is a dialect, voice, text, and acting teacher and coach. She currently teaches at UC Berkeley, A.C.T. (STC and SFS), and Academy of Art University, and has led workshops and vocal warm ups for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Recent dialect and vocal coaching credits include: Kiss My Aztec!, The Good Book, Paradise Square: A New Musical, Angels in America, and What the Constitution Means to Me (Berkeley Rep); An American in Paris (North American Tour); In Old Age, The Eva Trilogy, The Baltimore Waltz, Sojourners, and runboyrun (Magic Theatre); and Oslo, The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, Shakespeare in Love, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Native Son, and August: Osage County (Marin Theatre Company). In addition to her work in the theater, Jessica works with business professionals and private individuals on communication, presence, and presentation skills. She holds an MA from the Birmingham School of Acting, and an MFA from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
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