Acting Tips with Sarah O’Toole of Galway Actors Workshop


As a painter starts with a blank canvas, so too does an actor need to bring themselves to a place of neutrality for the body to express character, intention, emotion and even their very location in space. This requires a number of things:

1) A development of awareness of what is happening in the body at any given moment, as the physical affects the psychological and vice versa. This awareness leads us into the present moment and is the germ of that mysterious thing called “presence”.

2) An appreciation of the myriad ways the body can express itself through the combination of the various joints it is connected by. The way we hold tension is often what gives our bodies our personal characteristics and it is important for this to be loosened out. This allows a greater range of motion so our bodies can transform and express characters different from ourselves.

3) A sense of ritual. A warm up at the start of any rehearsal or performance signals to brain and body that everyday life is now being left aside and we are entering a different reality.

The exercise is quite simple, it’s the attention you bring to it that is important.

A) Stand with knees slightly soft, allow the spine to lengthen and close your eyes. Do a brief scan of your body from toes to head and just check in with how you are feeling without trying to change it.

B) Work slowly through the joints of the body, circling in both directions, easing but not forcing, just experiencing your range of motion – ankles, knees, hip sockets, circle the hips, then isolating chest, shoulders, elbows, arms, wrists, fingers, knuckles, neck. As you do this, you might find your mind start to wander, and just gently bring your focus back to the part of your body you are moving.

C) Massage the face with your fingertips and then roll down through the spine, hanging for a few deep breaths before rolling back up slowly, stacking vertebrae upon vertebrae and keeping the head and neck heavy till they’re raised.

D) Return to step A) and note if your experience of being in your body has changed in any way.

Sarah O’Toole