Should you have a cooler mind?

When I complimented actor Tyler Horn on his ability to be incredibly consistent on stage, he told me what makes some actors and musicians more successful performers than others.

Always keep a 10% cool mind.

For actors
  • For your fellow actors: your cool mind is what will make you able to listen to them, to respond to them, to make them feel something rather than showing them something.
  • For your production team: lights, musicians, props, etc... If you cue the music director when needed, or you follow him when needed, you keep your body in the lights, you always find your cue mark, then you're having a great balance between being in the moment and being self-aware of the rest of the production aspects.
  • For yourself: you need to keep a 10% cool mind to be safe for your own sake. If you are self-aware and keep in mind where things are around you, you avoid kicking them or falling, therefore potentially injuring yourself. Your mental safety is important as well. For example, one of Tyler's teachers talked to his class about working with John Malkovich on a movie, where Malkovich was doing this incredibly hard and emotional scene. Malkovich was in tears and clearly into the scene, when as soon as the director interrupted the scene, Malkovich got out of character and asked what he needed to change. 10% cool mind is pretty cool.
For musicians
  • For your technique: hard technical passages can easily sneak up on you, particularly after an intense emotional spot. The self-awareness of your body, and remembering technical aspects of the performance instead of getting caught in the moment and the intensity, is what can truly make a performance work.
  • For your audience: if you get too involved in what you are playing you stop considering your audience as being a part of the performance. Communicating with your audience is the true goal of any performance, and keeping a 10% cool mind is what keeps your performance generous and open enough to include the audience in it.
For actors
  • You are flexible and make changes easily: if a director asks you to change something in the middle of a scene, you should be able to do it immediately, even if you have to go through the entire beginning of the scene again. You should also be able to know after the scene if you managed to change it or not.
  • You spend more time getting ready for a scene than getting out of it: at the beginning of a run of a show and for the entire duration of it, you may take a long or a short while to get ready. Whatever you need to prep is completely up to you. But if you need a lot of time after an intense scene (let's say the rape scene in West Side Story) to come back to reality and get out of your character, that means that you are not safe enough and that you need to take a step back during the performance.
  • Once you and your directing team have agreed on a direction, you stay consistent with it: if it was decided that you would say that line at that particular moment of the musical vamp, you should always say it then, day in and day out. If you don't know if you are consistent with it or not, or if you believe that changing it every time indicates a high level of artistry, it actually shows you that you are not yet keeping a 10% cool mind.
For musicians
  • You are able to anticipate hard spots: your mind should be cool enough to know where you are at in the piece, and to know that a difficult technical passage is coming up so that you can prep yourself for it. Otherwise you will realize that the spot cam and went before your knew it.
  • Your performance gets better after a screw up: say that during a performance you missed half the notes of that spot you never ever screwed up before, instead of sinking you down, that mistake actually snaps you back into self-awareness (to not be confused with self-consciousness) and helps you focus and carry on a strong performance from then on. 
A 10% cool mind is what makes the difference between a true professional or someone who tries too hard. It is what will keep you getting hired because it is the basis of all the other qualities you need to be successful as a performing artist: flexibility, self-awareness and consistency.


Picture from http://www.solec.org/LouieLOMIT.htm

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