The Actor's Mind - Expressing in Balance. Power Connection Acting Exercises for Mental Flexibility
by N J Howell
Activate Your Creative Genius
These acting exercises are part of the free online acting class I offer here at Ask a Healer Wellness Library. I call the class the Power Connection. If you have reached this page directly, from a search for online acting classes or acting and the mind of the actor, you may want to first read acting lesson 5 - whole brain acting. It may also be helpful to start at the beginning of the power connection acting class, complete the intro and preceding acting lessons before doing this one.
Whole Brain Acting: Whole brain acting should be the goal of the actor. Relying only on conscious mind (left brain) choices can make a performance dull and predictable. Ignoring spontaneous inspiration, the domain of the subconscious, is an acting choice that is very limiting and which results in less powerful performances than could be possible.
While there is nothing wrong with research, scene analysis, beats, etc. I've seen them destroy an acting performance when the entire peformance is created from left-brain analytical processses. It can feel comfortable to work this way because you know everything that you've done to create the character. There are no suprises so there's a feeling of control. Unfortunately, an entirely left-brained approach leaves no surprises for the audience either. If I had to err on one side or the other, I'd go more right-brained or all right-brained before depending too much on analysis and study. The right brain has an amazing ability to operate within the whole of an experience. A performance that is allowed to emerge from intuitive response and improv is more fun for me personally, whether I'm in the audience or on the stage. It is also more frightening and feels more vulnerable.
Does this mean I don't use the left brain? Of course not. If my character had a son who died, I need to know that. If I used to be married to someone, there's a history there that cannot just be assumed without any thought or discussion ... although, many marriages are just that way, now that I think about it. Many times, in a separation or divorce, each person has an entirely different awareness of what the marriage was about and why it ended.
CONSCIOUS VS UNCONSCIOUS MIND IN ACTING
I have no exercises for increasing awareness of the conscious mind in performance because, in years of teaching acting to hundreds of students, I ve never met anyone who needed more training in that area. Without exception, the reverse has been true, and the conscious mind was too much in control of the acting process. I have taught many students and worked with a few actors who spent no time at all on research for period or culturally significant productions and this is not something I can teach with an exercise. Know your material. Read through the entire script, not just your scenes.
* Ask questions
* Make character choices
* Discover relationships
* Do your homework daily
* Then, send your head to bed; time to play!
The Subconscious Mind can be likened to a treasure chest of jewels and priceless gold. That part of your mind does not bear the limitations you have placed on yourself in growing up. We all do that, you know. We go from being free, unhibited children whose imaginations can create an entire world around us for the purposes of pure amusement to hesitant creators. We hesitate because we no longer believe in our own power to manifest.
Have you guessed this secret? Your world as it is right this moment is the sum total of what you have thought about yourself, your world and your potential. Reaching the subconscious mind can allow you to remember more of your potential, help you to create more positive thoughts about yourself and return you to a time of innocence where you knew you could anything, so you did! So, how does one get past the rigid, sometimes even stodgy will of the conscious mind to find fresh choices on lines that have been memorized for weeks and a "first time I've ever done this" sensation on movements that have been rehearsed over and over? One excellent way is to meditate. Meditation can be seen as some mystical type of experience that only a few can have or it can be seen as a natural part of life.
* We stop
* We breathe
* We release thought
* We are still
In the stillness is great magic. So, if you don't meditate, start now. Even if it's only five minutes, set that time apart to "not think". Don't do. Just be still. This will increase your intuitive sensing, which is a function of the subconsious levels of mind.
Another way to invite more subconscious input in your life is to experiment with what you know and what you have come to think you know. What I mean by this is that your past programming can throw your conscious mind into a response to a situation which is not even remotely in tune with the present. Let's say you ordered a steak dinner at a certain restaurant and it was ruined. Then, let's say a few weeks later, a friend invites you out and suggests steak. You rebell, saying that oh, no you don't want steak. Is that true? Or is it the conscious mind memory of the past event coloring your present decision? Learn to observe yourself and your responses; you may begin to see how much your "learned" behaviors from the conscious mind are controlling your actions.
Next: Online Acting Class, Lesson 6: Tips for Believable Acting