Here’s a very useful set of exercises in which you can use your hands and your voice together, to help you to more physically understand the concept of “using your voice (and words) as a tool to feel the flow of the scene.” In everyday life, we are quite used to using our hands as a way to find out about unfamiliar objects. When we need to know more about an object, the first thing we do (after looking at it) is to reach out and touch it. The point of these exercises for your hands to teach your voice how to do the same thing: to use your voice as a sensing device, a way to listen, feel and pick up information about the scene, rather than the normal way we think of our voices, which is as a way to communicate something.

The first developments of the exercise are done in pairs.


One of the partners does a movement improvisation. The main purpose of the exercise is to teach a specific skill to the other partner, so the partner who is doing the movement can pretty much do whatever kind of movement she likes, simply using the opportunity to warm up both her body and her connection to her own intuition.

The second partner places her hands on the mover’s body, usually around the torso. Your hands can move over your partner’s body as needed throughout the exercise (of course being polite about how you touch them), but it is the aim of both partners to maintain a strong contact throughout the exercise. The kind of contact you want to maintain is a very sensitive, tactile one, where you can pick up the nuances of your partner’s energy through the palms of your hands, so don’t use an overly tight grip.

The second partner vocalizes, making sounds but not using words. You are using your hands and your voice at the same time to sensitively experience the flow of your partner’s movement and energy. Try to directly feel every nuance of your partner’s energy flow, using both your voice and your palms. The intention is that you should experience the flow of your partner’s movement improvisation as a physical sensation which you physically feel, as fully as possible. You should use your voice just as tactilely and actively as you use your hands. In the same way that you actively reach your hands out to your partner, to get as much tactile information about her energy as you can, your voice has the sensation of active reaching and tactile sensitivity.

When the vocalizing partner has had a good opportunity to experience this sensation (perhaps after 5 minutes), switch roles.


Use the same structure as above, with one partner doing a free-form movement improvisation, and the other one vocalizing, but this time, using words instead of non-vocal sounds. The intention is that you should feel you are doing the exact same thing as you did without the words, in the exact same way, except that you are using words this time. Don’t focus on the issue of choosing words; use any words that come to you.  Your focus is still entirely on using your hands and voice together to actively, tactilely feel every nuance of your partner’s movement. The words which come out may or may not describe what your partner is doing, they may or may not make sense, they might be in full sentences or just isolated words and phrases. You can repeat the same word over and over, if only one word is coming to you, and let the same word repeat until a new one appears. The point of the exercise is to experience that you are using words in the same active, tactile way as you use your hands, to feel the flow of your partner’s energy, while allowing the words to “choose themselves.” After the first partner has experienced this, switch roles.


At this point, the improvisers will change from working in pairs to doing short solos. (One to two minutes long.) This time, instead of using a partner’s movement as the source of your vocal improvisation, you will use the image that the short scene you are about to perform is a flow of energy and feelings which already exists in its perfect form, and that you are going to use your hands and your voice (without words) to feel every moment and nuance of it. Use your hands throughout, to feel every nuance of the contour, shape, and emotional/energy quality of the flow of the scene at each moment, until you feel the scene come to an end after a minute or two. You don’t have to know anything about what quality of feeling the scene will turn out to have, just put your hands out in front of you and start discovering what the scene is like with your sense of touch. You are using your voice and hands together throughout, to discover and feel every moment of the scene. Once again, your hands and your voice work in tandem, both giving you as rich and full an experience of the flow of the scene as possible.


Do the same kind of short solos again, only this time using words instead of non-vocal sounds. Just as before, the point is to feel that you are working in the exact same way again, only using words. Once again, don’t focus on the question of choosing words; use the first words that come to you, whether or not they make sense, whether or not they are in grammatical sentence form, and whether or not they have anything to do with the quality of the energy you are feeling at the time. Your entire focus is still on using your voice (and words) to have an active, tactile experience of the flow of the scene, without worrying about which words to use.


You can very profitably continue to use this technique by doing longer duets or group scenes, in which the improvisers use their hands throughout the entire scene, constantly getting a tactile sense of the shape and emotional quality of the scene with their palms. There are many advantages to practicing improvisation with this technique. In these longer, more developed scenes, the actors are using a more extended vocal line which features long stretches of talking or making sounds, and also long stretches of silence. You are trying to feel that your vocal line follows the shape, contour, and emotional quality of the scene at every moment, regardless of whether you are speaking or using the “silent part” of your vocal line. By using your hands throughout, whether you are performing with words or with silences, your hands can help give you the sensation that the silent parts of your vocal line have just as much contour, shape, and emotional texture as the parts where you are using real words or sounds. In particular, during parts of the scene where your scene partner is speaking and you are being silent, the emotional through-line of the scene (which you are trying to feel at each moment) is mainly centered in your partner’s voice and words. By using your hands to feel the shape and emotion of your partner’s monolog, your hands can help you to feel that you continue to be filled and saturated with the flow of the scene (your partner’s voice) with complete continuity, whether it is the partner’s voice which is speaking, your own voice, both of your voices, or both of your silences.

In even longer, complex group scenes in which different actors may be entering and exiting throughout the piece, it is imperative (in improvisation) that the actors continue to feel they are fully inside of the scene, feeling every moment of it, whether they are onstage or offstage. This is essential, so that when they re-enter the stage, they still have all of the information of the flow of the scene which has led up to this point. They may be “offstage,” but they are just as fully inside of the scene as when they are onstage. By continuing to feel every moment of the scene with your hands when you are offstage, continuing to live through and fully experience every moment of the scene for the entire time you are in the wings, you can make sure that you have a sense of perfect continuity from the piece’s first moment to its last.

Stylistically, the scenes that result from this technique, in which all of the actors are making elaborate movements with their hands throughout the entire scene, may well contain much more waving about of the arms than you would desire for most scenes. A more subtle, restrained style, in which the actors can feel every nuance of the scene without having to make literal arm gestures, is usually more effective. The point of the exercise is to teach the improvisor to feel that their voice, their words, and their silences all have the same active and tactile sense of “reaching out to discover and feel” the flow of the scene that your hands have when you explore objects in everyday life. Once you are used to using words and silences in this active, tactile way, you can continue to have the same power and effectiveness in your vocal expression without needing to use your hands at every moment. Instead, your hands and arms would actively become part of your “sensing apparatus” only at key, heightened moments, when you really need them to have a sharper, more fully tactile experience of the moment.