Actor’s Toolkit: Part 2, The Mind
This is a three-part series blog that covers three important instruments of an actor that collectively form a toolkit: the body, the mind, and the voice. In this blog, we shall be touching upon the second instrument — the mind. Our body and mind must be in sync for acting readiness. An actor’s mind has power to shape their performance.
April 25, 2023
Listening is an integral prerequisite for an actor.
As actors, we are often told not to anticipate a moment or action. We are expected to invest ourselves completely in the act of listening to what’s been said. Listening happens not just in our mind, but also in our bodies. Read about Actor’s Toolkit: Part 1 | Body’. Being present in the moment is key to a good performance. Whenever we perform, our mind must process what’s being said and respond authentically. Actors who have trained themselves in theatre or drama foundation acting classes or film acting courses have the ability to process information more effectively than other actors.
There are essentially four abilities our mind needs to work on.
An actor must declutter noise, retain what is necessary, and compartmentalise the information. This can be achieved only by improving our concentration skills. Use an app, instrumental music, or meditation as a start point to work on this aspect.
An actor needs to remember lines, cues, markings for the camera / stage, direction, lights, treatment, and handling of the props—amongst many other things. The mind of an actor must process all of these all at once with equal importance to all of these and often more. Some find it challenging, while for some this comes naturally to them. Slowly and steadily training the mind is essential. Try making lists of what you need to manage in and around your performance and see if that helps. Additionally, annotating (marking) your scripts is a great place to start.
Imagination is a skill that can be learnt. It’s encouraged at film acting courses. An actor’s ability to imagine unfamiliar situations and re-imagine themselves in circumstances they have been through shapes their responses and thereby their performances. Imagine if you were at a beautiful beach, sitting under blue skies and coconut trees. Now think about adding details to this image of yours. By doing so, you’ve just exercised your power of imagination.
This ability is extremely crucial to every actor. To be observant is to have the power of tapping into internal and external spaces of an individual and a character. Being an observant actor helps in adding colour to your performances and use of body as an instrument. Start by spending a few minutes observing strangers on the street—or even your own family members. You never know, you may learn something interesting. Instructors at theatre acting classes will often ask you to observe your fellow batchmates and scene partners to improve your craft. That’s another way it’s done!
Having said that, the task is always to be consistent and let our minds take us to unexplored places.
Consistency in activating our mind’s superpower can be achieved by these six magical methods.
1. Practice improvisation
Improvisation is popularly known as ‘Improv’. Improv exercises stimulate our minds like nothing else. The formula is simple: continuously say “yes” to every idea in front of you and take it further. For instance, get on a phone call with your friend, ask them to give you a random word, and start building a story. See the wonder you create. This has always been one of go-to exercises for most beginners in acting, especially at drama classes.
2. Practice looking around
Notice your surroundings, sit on a park bench, and just observe the environment. Observe the way people talk, the way animals walk, the sounds of birds, and the breeze, and observe what it evokes inside of you. The fun lies in the tiniest of details, like the twitch of a brow, or the way the nose muscle sniffs.
3. Practice journal writing
Writing is a great focus-generating exercise. Try and allot a few minutes of your time daily and maintain a journal. Write about your day, your experiences, and your observations. It helps recall all things and if you read them after some time, you’d see the difference with which you see things now v/s then. You will see yourself transform and progress. Bonus points for maintaining notes in your acting classes.
4. Practice meditation
Meditation and yoga strengthens our minds. Not only will this help you relax, but it will also help you gather your thoughts more fluidly. You can start by just closing your eyes and listening to any peaceful tune and see what it does to your senses and your breath. If you’ve enrolled for online drama classes, you can do this at home before and after every session!
5. Practice letting go
Easier said than done. It is important to be aware of our inhibitions, patterns, and limitations that shape our decisions. Being able to slowly let them go and freeing our mind from the burden of it will aid in the full expression of our beliefs. For instance, if you aren’t naturally inclined towards dancing, dancing on stage might make you more conscious about yourself. Knowledge of this is important. Accepting it and then working on shedding this inhibition will be a process that will take time but you will need to put in the work.
6. Practice kindness
Be kind, first to yourself, then to others around. We are our harshest critics. Our mind is a complicated pool of thoughts. Give yourself a break! And be nice to yourself. Forgiveness and acceptance are hacks for a better life! As an artist, your sensitivity should be your biggest strength. Don’t let your thoughts make you doubt your worth. EVER!
Being present is a discipline that takes time to develop. One step at a time. If you can see the next step, take it and keep going like that. Training your mind, like any form of training, is a process that happens over time. Trust yourself and your instincts, and magic is bound to happen. An actor receives and then responds. Every time you wear the actor’s hat, ask yourself after every take: Were you really in the present?
Ekalavya: Act, Create, Communicate
India’s best online acting and theatre training platform, an initiative of Drama School Mumbai (DSM). DSM is one of the best acting and theatre schools in India. At Ekalavya, all the courses are designed and delivered by highly trained DSM faculty and industry professionals. Currently available courses are Breaking Open Characters, Mastering Monologues, Expressive Voice and Speech, Art of Auditioning, Expressive Body, and Art of Storytelling.