A beginners mindset is imperative to excellence in all art forms. In acting, it ultimately creates more flexible, playful, and compelling performances. But what does a “beginner’s mindset” mean? And how do we retrain our brains to function in this way?
To me, beginner’s mindset implies that we come to the work every time as if we are novices.
I’ve been a nanny off and on for the past eight years and spent A LOT of time with kids of all ages. (Full disclosure, my best friend is a 10 year-old named Maribelle…) Children are curious about everything. More often than not, they have zero shame when it comes to acknowledging that they don’t know everything (until they hit about 13…). Kids lean into learning and absorbing information about things they care about. They navigate the world without fully formed brains. That’s pretty cool.
You didn’t enter this world with defenses — those are learned behaviors. When you’re navigating the world outside of acting you need defenses to survive. But when you’re acting, do your best to remember that you are safe. Lean into feedback! Defiance doesn’t create clear work. Performance notes don’t necessarily feel “good”, but do your best to remember that feedback comes from a place of caring about the caliber of your work.
When a teacher gives you a note, they are pushing you towards being the best you can be. The work is more important than you and if you care about creating a top-notch performance, your ego can’t be in the room.
Failure is your friend in this work. Try not to beat yourself up. Having a sense of humor about missteps ultimately helps your work. It’s important to take the work seriously, but to keep in mind that it’s a learning process. You’re not perfect, and that’s okay. No one is.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay not to have all the information.
Why on earth would you believe you know everything there is to know about acting? That’s pretty boring! Acting is about embodying different characters and points of view. You only know your point of view. It’s important to try to remember to have both empathy for yourself and for the roles you play.
Why do you want to be an actor? For me, I love it because it is FUN. Real life is pretty drab, when you think about it. Bills, responsibilities, etc. exist in the real world. In the imaginary world, anything is possible.
When you feel yourself floundering, or in your head, turn your attention back to what is happening around you. Try to remember that you and your scene partner are building together. Acting is make believe…
My mom is a school guidance counselor. Growing up, she did her best to remind me that emotions ebb and flow. Something she stressed to me, that I now find incredibly helpful: all emotions in the world live inside of us every day all the time 100% of the time. Why, then, would we be scared that we won’t be able to access anger or sadness or joy? We already have them. It just becomes about how to drop into these emotions when we are called to.
As Terry often says, “Emotions aren’t a solid, they’re more of a gas.” When we feel ourselves reaching for feelings they can seem elusive. It results in us beating ourselves up or thinking we are “bad”. Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to feel anything other than pressure when you’re worried about “manufacturing” feelings.
Make time to warm up before you work. If you’re in your body, emotions will be more easily accessible. You are a vessel of emotion — when you’re tense, they get stuck.
I don’t mean the first time the character has said these things to me… but the first time I’ve ever been told these things in my whole entire life. The things my partner expresses to me / the names they call me / the nice things they do for me… When I let my guard down and focus less on what I should be feeling and more on what my partner’s words and energy are doing to me, I can react on impulse and drop into emotionality. 27 year-old Allison can let it slide off her back when someone calls her “mean”. But 5 year-old Allison? That would’ve broken her.
As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Once we know something, it becomes difficult to pretend that we do not. If you were an accountant, this would be an important skill. But acting is subjective. Trust the gray areas within the work. This flexibility will only enhance your performances and ultimately lead to clarity.