In conjunction with Digital Learning Day on February 25, the Michigan State University Department of Theatre MFA Acting cohort will launch a six-season podcast, entitled “The Moment Before: An Actor’s Warm-Up Podcast,” which is the only known podcast focusing on quick and convenient ways for actors to warm-up and prepare for auditions, rehearsals, and performances with each season consisting of a series of 10-minute exercises.
Beginning in fall 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic caused MSU to pivot to remote learning, Assistant Professor of Acting and Movement Alexis Black already was thinking of novel ways to engage student actors in movement exercises online.
“Students were telling me that when they had a teacher walk them through the steps of character work, they could get there, but when they were on their own, they struggled,” Black said. “Since our MFA Acting program is designed to prepare students for a career as a teaching artist, we decided to have the current cohort of graduate students create an actor’s warm-up podcast. It was originally going to be 16 episodes, but then COVID-19 hit, and we weren’t able to move on with a lot of the other units in our class, so we just kept making podcasts because it was something we could do remotely. We ended up with over 40 episodes.”
The graduate students found that translating their training into a podcast was a natural progression due to the pedagogical element of MSU’s program.
As new teachers, learning how to verbalize and codify certain exercises in a class is a challenge. The podcast really helped us to think through the process of teaching, step-by-step.Claire Wilcher, MFA Acting Candidate
“The program is half acting and half teaching. We study concepts and then apply them to our own classrooms,” said MFA Acting Candidate Claire Wilcher. “As new teachers, learning how to verbalize and codify certain exercises in a class is a challenge. The podcast really helped us to think through the process of teaching, step-by-step.”
Fellow MFA Acting Candidate Eloy Gomez Orfila agreed, saying “We looked at the medium of podcasting as a great way to integrate the potential of media and new technologies in the classroom.”
Covering the Five Pillars of Acting
The podcast series was named The Moment Before by Gomez Orfila as it represents that moment when you’re waiting in the wings backstage, ready to step on and perform.
Each of the first five seasons align with what Black has found to be the five pillars of acting: activating imagination, energizing the body, exploring emotions, discovering character, and finding closure. The last topic is especially important, Black says, “because even though this is ‘The Moment Before,’ you have to take care of the moment after as well.”
The team aimed to keep each episode to about 10 minutes in length “because whether they’re about to take the stage, or they’re riding the subway to a class, or waiting in a room before an audition,” Black says, “it’s the perfect little chunk of time for an actor to commit to the specified preparation and then dive into the work.”
To begin the podcast project, Black assigned each graduate student a topic based on their own strengths while later episodes were assigned to push students outside their comfort zones, “because before you can teach it, you have to learn it,” Black said.
Leading a movement exercise in an audio format, however, was not without its challenges.
“Conceptually, it was a natural progression, but applying it practically was not easy,” Wilcher said. “Your listener cannot see you demonstrating the movement, so we had to learn to be precise in our verbal instruction.”
It was a great practice in listening and incorporating feedback as educators. We also made sure to encourage the listener to accept that it’s ok to make mistakes.Alexis Black, Assistant Professor of Acting and Movement
The team did extensive testing for each episode by having MFA cohort members try the exercises, then incorporate them into their classrooms, followed by sending them to theatre professionals outside the university.
“It was a great practice in listening and incorporating feedback as educators,” Black said. “We also made sure to encourage the listener to accept that it’s ok to make mistakes.”
A sixth season, entitled “Specified Preparation,” also emerged because each student in the MFA Acting cohort has specific skills and specializations that could assist in warm-ups for topics such as classical texts, stage combat, or staged intimacy.
A Resource For All Actors
The MFA students were permitted to record episodes in the College of Arts & Letters recording studio with Educational and Media Design Specialist, Daniel Trego.
“It was a great experience to work with Alexis and the MFA Acting cohort,” Trego said. “Their training helped them to think directly about the audience for each episode. They were all very professional and the voice acting was exceptional. The best part was getting to put something new out into the world. To our knowledge, there are no acting warm-up podcasts in existence, so we’re building something of unique value.”
While the podcast was created with college students in mind, Black believes it will be a valuable resource for any actor.
“Even seasoned professionals could use this podcast as a refresher or just a different way to warm up,” she said. “[Also] younger actors who don’t yet have a full process might not have the tools to figure out how to prepare for those different moments. I hope this podcast helps to normalize the idea that they can ask for help.”
Even after the podcast launches, the work will continue as Black and her team shift their focus to making the episodes as accessible as possible. Transcripts of each episode will be uploaded to assist actors who are deaf or hard of hearing. Black also is exploring the creation of supplemental videos for certain movements and would like to have the exercises translated into multiple languages. This fall, the incoming MFA Acting cohort will create new episodes to add to the collection.
Even seasoned professionals could use this podcast as a refresher or just a different way to warm up. [Also] younger actors who don’t yet have a full process might not have the tools to figure out how to prepare for those different moments. I hope this podcast helps to normalize the idea that they can ask for help.Alexis Black, Assistant Professor of Acting and Movement
When asked what he hoped listeners would take away from the podcast, Gomez Orfila said: “It’s a lot about diversity within performance and within teaching. Acknowledging that there are as many different processes as there are actors. I want to give actors the power to do what works for them and not feel constrained by what the theatre world expects them to do. My favorite episode is about the Chekov ‘Crossing the Threshold’ technique. You imagine a door. On one side is your reality, then you step through to the other side, which is a place of limitless creativity.”
The Moment Before: An Actor’s Warm-up Podcast can be found on popular streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes. It also can be accessed at theatre.msu.edu/themomentbefore.