Editor's Note: In advance of our exciting MinnesotaPlaylist rebuild and redesign (You Can Help!), we thought we'd do a little Throwback Thursday throughout September.

This article was originally published in only our second month of existence, November 20, 2008. Out of the blue, unsolicited, this advice for actors appeared in our MinnesotaPlaylist email box--soon after, other articles came from, we can only imagine, the same scary, damp, and dark place in John Middleton's soul.


A comprehensive, sequential warm-up for rehearsal or performance from breath to yoga, floor humping to The Cheerful Mollusk pose—does anyone else here feel a little numb?

1. “And the breath of God passed into the clay and it became a man.” —Genesis something:something. To inspire, literally, is to breathe into. The breath is the source of energy for the actor. It carries the voice. It provides oxygen to the muscles. It inflates the lungs. It is mostly air. Place your hand on your belly just beneath your navel and inhale through the nose. Now exhale through the mouth. Or is it inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose? No one can know for sure. It’s like “starve a cold and feed a fever,” or vice versa.

2. “A man’s grasp should exceed his reach...” —Robert Browning. Consider that an actor’s toolkit contains only three items: a voice, a face, and a body. With so few tools to employ, we must strive to make each as versatile, responsive, and expressive as possible.  Begin with the center of the body. Reach up with the right arm and feel the stretch through the ribcage. Now stretch the left side. Clasp your hands behind your back and feel the stretch through your chest. Roll your head in easy circles. Lie on your back, knees bent, and gently rock back and forth, up and down. With feet flat on the floor, press your pelvis up toward the ceiling and slowly roll up and down through the spine. Isn’t this awesome? In what other job can you take the time to stretch out your back and not feel foolish? My back is perpetually clenched (with stress, frustration and shame), but if I were to lie on the floor by my desk during my day job, you can just bet that the sales guys would have a good long laugh. Hey, Johnny Midtown, laying down on the job, huh? Where’s Midtown? Is he humping the floor again? It would never end.

3. “I’m hot-blooded, check it and see” —Foreigner. You have a number of choices for warming the blood—jumping jacks, jog in place, sun salutations (yoga), “the 100” (Pilates), etc.—anything to get the heart rate up and keep it there for five minutes or so. I drink too much, smoke too much, sleep too little, and eat badly. So it’s pretty easy for me to get my heart rate up. I can do it by having a Coke and a bag of chips. I’m having a Coke while I type this, and I can feel the blood pounding in my neck just below my tongue. And my skin feels unnaturally tight around my temples. I should see a doctor. Why don’t I? Have you heard of “acedia”? I just read an article about it. Formerly, it was applied only to monks—maybe nuns, too—and referred to a sort of numbness of the soul. I think I have that. Things are bad, but you don’t have the energy to give a damn. You know?

4. “The center that I cannot find / is known to my unconscious mind.” —W.H. Auden. Think of “centering” as the time to put together all that has gone before; breathe deeply and do some energetic, hot-blooded stretching. Lots of bended knees and twisted cores. Yoga poses are appropriate here. Warrior One. Inverted Downward Dog. The Cheerful Mollusk. And think about what you are about to do. Run lines if you have to. Do not think about what it all means. Why do this? Am I so desperate for attention that I have to make a bunch of strangers sit in the dark and applaud for me? I used to think that there was something noble about what we do. That, in our own little way, we were incrementally goosing the amount of empathy in the world. But, come on! I mean, look at it! The theater’s been around for twenty-five hundred years, give or take, and the world is just about as shitty as it’s ever been. I’m not saying it’s worse than it was during the Dark Ages when you could die of a scratch, or get burned at the stake for sneezing in church or something. I’m saying the world is exactly as shitty as it’s been at any other point in history and that makes it exponentially sadder. After all, if all you know is lice and hunger and occasional plagues and the only reason around is that God thinks it’s for the best, well, okay. But now we understand a little more. We have science and coffee shops and Google. We should know better! But we still have wars and hunger and filth and genocide and human trafficking and what the hell? Anyway, don’t forget to breathe.

6. “Not with a bang, but a whimper.” —T.S. Eliot. Well, that’s about it. This is a perfectly good warm-up but to be fair, I should point out that unless you have a big fight scene or dance or something, you can do about as well by having a cup of coffee and a smoke. It sounds like I’m being flip, but I don’t mean it like that. Whether you go through a full warm-up or just have a cup of coffee—don’t smoke—take a couple of moments to be quiet and you’ll be okay. We’ll all be okay. Everything’s okay.