The Actor is an Athlete

Stefanie Townsend

I recently had the joy and privilege of seeing the national tour of Something Rotten! While I was enjoying performances, admiring costumes, and gushing over the scenic design, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible amount of physical activity the show required. As I sat several rows back from the edge of the balcony, I could see the performers in the back panting after one of the larger numbers. It validated a belief I have held for many years:

Actors are athletes.

Not every actor wants to be in a musical, nor will every actor be in one. Not everyone will have to sing, dance and act at the same time – in some cases, in heavy costumes.

But even if you’re not doing a tap dance break that rivals that of Sutton Foster’s in Shrek, being physically fit is beneficial.

The most important reason to be physically fit as an actor is energy. Energy is crucial for everything that an actor does: move, focus, walk, make choices, follow impulses, remember their lines, and potentially sing and dance. It allows actors to survive countless hours on set or multiple performances per week. It allows them to perform their best work.

Of course, proper nutrition and sleep also are key factors in ensuring that an actor has enough energy to do their work and achieve their potential. However, physical fitness cannot be overlooked.

Physical fitness strengthens. Actors use their whole bodies to move, to create, to share, to tell stories. We need strength and energy to help become consumed in our work. To support our movements, no matter how big or small. To breathe, to feel, to act, to express. Everything we do requires strong muscles and strong lungs. To be able to have the strength and energy to throw yourself into the work is important no matter what genre or medium of work you are taking part in.

It is, however, important to remember that one can be physically fit regardless of weight. There are truly all sorts of shapes and sizes, and not everyone can or should conform to one ideal. If an actor is plus sized but is still fit enough to have the energy to make it through rehearsals, shows or filming, can focus and work with ease, can dance their heart out on stage and sing every note without struggling for air, their size is irrelevant.

It's hard to ignore the benefits of physical activity and fitness. Having more energy and strength can help every actor. Even though our activity takes part on the set and stage and not the field, an actor is an athlete.

Photo: Victorian College of the Arts