The Power & Practice of Curiosity

– Socrates 
“Curiouser and Curiouser”
– Lewis Carroll
It starts with curiosity. Curiosity breeds a desire to know. As your desire to know grows it requires the courage to go deeper, to acknowledge and discover truths you may not be willing to accept. To embrace the changes, it might ask of you. Discipline is required to overcome the fears and doubts that prevent you from being curious in the first place. Curiosity breeds empathy. 

How does curiosity affect us?
There are many studies that show curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more joy, and greater psychological well-being. It pays to be curious!

In this “quick fix,” “get it done,” “results now” world many aspects of our lives will suffer. We have become so addicted to our own adrenaline that we often find it difficult to stop, reflect and stand in the wonder of the miracle of life and all the amazing things we can do with it. The cliché is true: we must recover the eyes of a child. An actor must find a way to approach a script with childlike wonder as if they are being read a story, not as an over-cranked college student cramming for an exam.

When you get an audition, the impulse is often to spring into action and pull out your highlighters and a pen. Don’t do this. Instead, take a moment to be grateful for the tiny piece of the human condition you will be getting to explore today. You have the opportunity to share this experience with others. AMAZING! 

Actors are often too quick to go straight to making their bold and interesting choices. Sometimes the only thing they’re curious about is “how can I be different than the other actors auditioning and book the role?” Unfortunately, the pressure of the 48-hour turnaround and the plethora of false promises being offered online, have only served to dull or at worst atrophy our curiosity. Pressure (time and peer) is the enemy of curiosity. Anything organic must grow….it cannot be manufactured. 

Nature gives us conflicting programmed protocols. On the one hand our natures require us to investigate and adapt, but our natures also tell us that we have to be able to build on those discoveries if we want something to last or at least have some permanence. My job is to draw your attention to how a lack of curiosity, and how many of the more intellectual and cognitive approaches to acting, impact on your ability to produce honest, raw, and human auditions. If you want to stand out, discover the character from within yourself, or discover yourself in the character. You must be curious to do this. All auditions, like every other aspect of life, should have a discovery phase.
A couple of the most dangerous things to say or think as an actor (both anti-curious and anti-empathetic) are “Ohhhh, it’s one of those types of shows” or “How do I stand out from everyone else?” when referencing a script. Don’t observe and analyze it like a lab coated technician. Get in the maze with the mice. 

The screenwriter has set up the experiment. “What would happen if I put this person with that person and then see what happens when they meet this person and then the “bomb” explodes.

Some things to consider and questions to ask before you decide how you are going to “play it”:
1. It is not that difficult to know what someone is feeling. It is much more difficult to understand what they were thinking and how they may have arrived at that way of thinking. No need to resort to banal superficial questions like “what is my relationship to…”
2. Make a study of some of life’s most common underlying dynamics and the major themes of our lives. We all will be confronted by one or more of these things through the course of our lives. Our loved ones, friends, acquaintances, even random people we pass on the street, experience these travails as well.
The banality of the phrase “given circumstances” doesn’t even come close to getting to the heart and soul of the truth of our lives. 

Some examples of the major themes to considered
– Betrayal/Coming to the aid of a friend
– The pain of loss or grief/The healing power of love
– The need for revenge/The struggle for forgiveness or redemption
– The fear of commitment/The need to belong
– Feeling helpless/Finding the strength to endure or overcome
– Ambition and the desire to know/The desire for security and maintaining status quo
– Feeling imprisoned or trapped/The desire to be free
– To covet/Generosity of spirit
– Rites of passage/Life passing you by

1.  Become more curious about others. Talk to people outside your own inner circles: Want to know what they are going through and how they are coping with the card’s life dealt them? Believe it or not, there are those with lives, experiences, and worldviews that are different from your own. If you do, you will find you become better at having perspective and open yourself up to a wealth of new thoughts and ideas. Use the list above as a guide to recognize what others are going through and struggling with. It will help you to realize the themes of film/ television are really just the themes of our lives. A script isn’t to be analyzed! It is to be lived! You are going on an adventure not cramming for an exam.
3. Nurture your desire and need to be more curious by:
– Examining your biases
– Asking more questions
– Not being afraid of saying “I don’t know”
– Setting yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage and a little curiosity. 
– Practice not getting angry with people who disagree with you. Try to understand them. Don’t try to change their minds. Heaven forbid you might have to change your mind or be at peace with the difference between you.
1. Ask the following questions to become more curious about yourself and your characters.
– Where or When have I experienced this? Where/When do I know anyone who has experienced this? Or Where/When have I seen a character in a movie experience this?
– What led you or your character to make that choice or say that line?
– What were they thinking when they said this or that?
– What else might they have said?
– What would have happened if the responses were different?
– Would it have made a difference?
– Is that what they wanted to say or were they considering something else?
– Figure out how they think and you may end up being able to feel what they feel.

1. Curious people are happier people. Curiosity allows you to work longer and with greater concentration. Curiosity leads to more enjoyment. I have seen so many actors get bored and despondent after the initial high of getting that audition. Again, it may seem obvious but, it’s easier and more rewarding to put in the time and effort when you are actually interested and care. It is such an easy thing to overlook, but if you are curious about someone or something, you pay more attention. Curiously, this makes things easier to remember later…Including your lines! If it’s important you will remember.

There is an added benefit: Curiosity breeds curiosity. It makes time and self-consciousness disappear.

1. Listening is not enough. We cannot be the tech in the lab coat with a clipboard taking notes. We cannot observe without letting ourselves be affected and observed. Let yourselves be seen and vulnerable. Breathing (next week’s topic) and relaxation of the facial muscles will cause the mask to drop. To reveal our feelings to others allows others to reveal their feelings to us. It is vital for creating strong relationships both in our lives and in our acting work. Curiosity helps strengthen relationships. Curiosity towards someone is a great way to build your closeness with them and deepen your understanding of the characters you are responsible to bring to life.
2. The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help gurus ruled and told us how to live our lives and made a fortune. They encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing into the pool like Narcissus, obsessed with ourselves and our own reflections. What you see in the mirror is not you, rather just a momentary reflection of you. Social media culture is a hothouse for this kind of self-obsession.

The 2020’s should become the Age of Curiosity and Empathy. We can discover ourselves not through self-reflection, but by being more interested in the lives of others. 

“Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.”
-Bob Dylan

Up next week…

Remember to breathe.

Gain the courage and desire to know yourself better.

Develop discipline and the capacity for hard work.

Continue to train regardless of success.