Take a Deep Breath: How To Warm Up For a Poetry Gig

What’s the key to a perfect performance? How do you prepare to go on stage? The Poetry Society’s own Julia Bird shares her secrets…

The Poetry Society’s Learning & Participation Manager Julia Bird has produced many touring poetry shows over the last decade, and has a sure-fire pre-show routine to get poets ready for their performances.

She says, “I’ve worked with a couple of great theatre directors and actors over the years, and between us all, we’ve come up with a set of exercises that we run through with all our performing poets before their shows. It works for page poets reading from their books or for spoken word poets with active stage styles. Anything that settles you before you get on stage, and helps you focus on the breath in your body and how your teeth and tongue are working to articulate your poems is going to help you connect with an audience. Here are our top tips for successful poem delivery!”

  1. If you’re able to stand: in flat shoes or with your shoes off, stand with your feet hip-width apart, don’t lock your knees. Give yourself a shake. Mentally scan your body to see where any tension is, and try to relax it with some light stretching. If you’re not able to stand: sit with your shoulders relaxed and mentally scan your body, and stretch if necessary.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, right from your diaphragm. Breath out through your mouth. Repeat a couple of times.
  3. Breathe in again, but this time, release the breath on an AAAAAAAAAAAAA sound. Repeat a couple of times, also breathing out with MMMMMMMMMM and ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sounds.
  4. Say the pattern tt-tt-tt-tt-tt-tt for about twenty seconds, and then dd-dd-dd-dd-dd-dd and gg-gg-gg-gg-gg-gg. If you can, put your index and middle fingers of one hand on top each other in between your front teeth and do gg-gg-gg-gg-gg-gg again.
  5. Say HI-YA HI-YA HI-YA with exaggerated lip and jaw movements, repeat a couple of times and then switch to YO-YA YO-YA YO-YA.
  6. Hoovers and Diggers: make a noise like a vacuum cleaner (VVVVVVVVVVVVVVV) and then a noise like a road digger (BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) – alternate and repeat a few times.
  7. Lion Face and Mouse Face: stretch your face into a silent lion roar, squash your face into a tiny mouse squeak.
  8. Pretend to chew a toffee, and massage your face and jaw while you’re doing it.
  9. Repeat a few choice tongue twisters – here are some!
  10. Pick a spot on the far wall of the room you’re in, and direct your speech to it. Run through the numbers 1-20 a couple of times, varying the pitch (high and low), the pace (quick and slow) and the volume (loud and soft) as you speak.
  11. Direct a line or two of your poetry at the same spot, again, varying the pitch, pace and volume.
  12. An optional extra tip! If yours is a performance which involves movement, recite one of your poems or pieces double speed to yourself while walking or moving quickly round the set or performance space. Take care not to bump into any furniture, scenery or other performers.

Safety on stage

If you are on a stage in a theatre or other venue, pay close attention to the venue or stage manager if they have any safety information to impart. Be aware of where mic stands and cables etc. are, so you avoid any accidents.

Never overstretch or bounce a stretch, or stretch an injured body part. Stop exercising if you experience pain, dizziness or any discomfort.

What about stage fright?

For more poetry performance prep, read our tips on getting over stage fright and on how to read at an open mic.

Do you have a tip that you use to warm up before going on stage? Share it in the comments below!


Photo: Kevin Rutterford

Julia Bird is The Poetry Society’s Projects Manager, working on events and participation activities. She’s also a poet (see her website www.juliabird.wordpress.com) and has produced many touring poetry shows with her company Jaybird Live Literature (www.jaybird.org.uk). Read Julia’s Young Poets Network feature on tips for putting together a live literature show here.

Thanks to Jacqui Adeniji-Williams for her valuable advice when including access requirements in this feature.

One thought on “Take a Deep Breath: How To Warm Up For a Poetry Gig

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *