Laurence Olivier advised all actor’s to own a copy of Grey’s Anatomy, so convinced was he that total knowledge of one’s body was crucial to any performance. Given that I have a tendency to be a hypochondriac, I have deemed it unwise for me to study such a book.
However, I agree with Olivier’s assertion, shared by many professional actors, that knowledge of and care for the body is keen. I do my best to do so.
I am not a fitness expert. I am not a doctor. So I am not about to subscribe a specific exercise/aerobic regimen for all you actors out there. If you do not have a routine, you should get one. If you already have one, I have little to offer you in the way of advice, save this; include a lot of walking.
Walking has very particular benefits for the performer.
For starters, taking long walks helps to build endurance. Nothing illuminates an ill-prepared player on the stage than noticeable fatigue. The longer you can maintain a certain level of energy and poise while on stage, (even during long periods of standing or dancing) the better your stage presence is going to be. Long walks, gradually increased in length are perfect for building up this sort of stamina.
Walking also tends to direct one’s focus to one’s breathing. Lung capacity, and control of breath are valuable tools for the actor (in straight shows as well as musicals.) Without intending to, you will often notice the rhythmic nature of your breathing while walking. Simply paying attention to the inhales and exhales, and taking note of how much oxygen you find you need as related to the amount of energy you are exerting can teach you plenty about your own respiratory system.
Yet there are non-physical advantages to walking for the actor. Whether alone on a rural path, or walking down a crowded city sidewalk, walking is a perfect venue for conversing with yourself, assessing the world around you, and tapping into the collective imagination that is out there waiting to be utilized by us all. Walking is meditative as well as aerobic. To put it another way, it is a great way to become centered, which is a status every actor should seek to obtain. I take a walk around the neighborhood before every opening night.
So, lift weights, do pilates, buy that Bowflex thing if you must. They all serve a terrific purpose, and will certainly help keep the actor’s body fine tuned as much as anyone else’s. But for my money, nothing beats a walk.