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  • Writer's pictureCriena

This one thing freaks actors out

Taught a voice and movement class today. An observation that stuck out - this one thing freaks young actors out - breathing from their mouth.

Whether I'm teaching an acting class or voice class, I always ask my students to slightly part their lips. Why? So they're free to breathe from either their mouth or nose. Why? Because, we actually breathe from our mouths when speaking. Why? Because we take in more air in a shorter period this way. But why? Because it keeps you open to the impulse of speech. But even more importantly, it keeps you vulnerable.

Don't believe me? Then take it from an expert. Here's what Kristen Linklater (leading vocal technique expert) had to say:

"In repose, or when walking in the street, it is aesthetically and hygienically practical to breathe through the nose, which serves to clean, filter, and moisten the air on its long, relatively slow passage to the lungs. For speaking, the breath must be able to respond quickly to fast-changing impulses, and a direct, open passage through the mouth is clearly needed... Let me say that, for actors, nasal breathing is utterly counterproductive to truthful speaking."


Try it. Relax your jaw and let your lower lip go with it. Not too wide. Just enough for air to be let in. Now even more radical, do it in front of people. Notice how it makes you feel. Any hesitation? Do you feel weird? (that seems to be the word my students use the most to describe this feeling)

In today's class, I had two students who fought to keep their lips shut. They were so uncomfortable with it. The right side would part, but the left would close up. It was a little comical. "Nothing is going to happen to you, I promise." I told one of them.

I mean really, what's the worst thing that could happen? A fly goes in and you accidentally swallow it? ... for the sake of acting, it might be worth it.

If you feel the same way, don't worry, this is a very normal reaction. We develop habits in life, and one of them could be closing your lips shut to feel safe and guarded from the outside world. Which is necessary. Like, pollution? Eew.

However once in the safe space of the theater, let it go and let others in. This little adjustment is instant openness and vulnerability. It might be the little something that transforms your performance.

Did you find parting your lips hard or easy? Comment below and let us know how this helps you as an actor?

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