Being Open

Acting coaches will tell their students to “be open.” To be a vessel for the writer’s words. To be an instrument of storytelling for the director’s vision. To listen to a scene partner whose interpretation of his role could influence yours. Being open is a fundamental principle of natural acting. Heck, it’s the foundation of the improvisational mantra: “Yes, and…” really.

And it’s a dang cool way to approach the business side of an acting career as well. Last week we talked about the various directions in which one can (and should) network (and this week’s Your Turn is filled with examples of actors having done exactly that sort of thing). This week, we’ll build on that with a look at how being open can rock your world.

As creatures of habit, it can actually be pretty dang tough for us to stay open much of the time. We’re taught “right from wrong,” we’re influenced by factors of culture and family and peers. We experience enough that we’re sure we get how things happen and, unless something really incredible happens to create a paradigm shift for us, we may really hold tight to our beliefs and understanding of all things. It’s why we have distinct personalities. We grabbed onto the stuff so much it became a part of who we are and how we operate. It’s not a bad thing, but being closed to change is.

Actors and other artists are probably (well, theoretically, anyway) better at “being open” than the rest of the occupants of this planet. That has everything to do with the fact that creative people are always studying the human condition, always exploring the baffling and intricate facets of what makes us tick. Your interest in bringing fictional worlds and characters to life means, at your core, you are open to storytelling, to the fiction-into-reality of it all. And that’s the little place inside you that I’d like to ask you to access, when you find yourself feeling stubborn about “how it is” or “how it works” in this business.

Of course nothing is set in stone. There is no always in this business. The newbie with no relationships has the exact same shot at getting cast as the well-connected, well-trained pro. The same odds? No. But the same shot. The same initial opportunity. And it is precisely because it can happen for anyone that this career choice is one of the most magical and the most confounding. Get okay with that paradox and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

I cast a film for a wonderful writer/director a year or so ago and I loved that one of his favorite things to say, in any casting conversation (heck, probably in most of his conversations. I think this may just be how this cool guy is wired), was, “I have my opinions, but I’m open to having my mind changed.” He pretty much always gave me an opening to sway him if I had a very strong opinion about casting one actor over another. If someone on our list had a higher ranking with me than with him, he invited dialogue about why I valued that actor so much. He not only enjoyed the collaborative process, he relished it. He approached every conversation OPEN. We may have still ended up going with his frontrunner for a role (I mean, c’mon, it was his movie, after all), but he was always open to changing his mind (or to “having [his] mind changed,” has he put it) and I think there’s something really beautiful about that.

The actor who is convinced that he can only score a meeting with an agent through direct mail of unsolicited hard copy headshots and resumés isn’t open to the idea that a new breed of agent is out there, scouring YouTube and FunnyOrDie and the VirtualChannelNetwork for original material being presented by talented up-and-coming actors. The actor who is certain she will never get copy of her footage if she says yes to doing a student film isn’t open to discovering the fact that dozens upon dozens of student films are major contenders in film festivals worldwide each year, meaning a much wider audience than would ever possibly see her demo reel could be exposed to her work.

Listen to what others say about how they get their jobs done. For inspiration, watch shows like Iconoclasts, What It Takes, Inside the Actors Studio, Biography, Shootout, The Directors, etc. Attend free talks put on by the SAG Foundation and SAG LifeRaft. Open yourself up to non-actor-centered talks like those put on through the WGA Foundation or Film Independent. Listen to interviews with showrunners like the ones available at the Other Network or read their words in books like Created By… or any number of showrunner biographies. Subscribe to podcasts like Cynopsis, Working in the Theatre, Everything Acting, or any of the KCRW podcasts like The Business, The Treatment, or Martini Shot. For inspiration from writers, read the essays posted at Why We Write. Revisit columns in which I’ve listed other programs and programming (live and on TV) for even more ideas.

And whatever you check into, remain open.

I have a daily reminder set up in my iPhone (Nancy) that lists a few key quotes or sayings that help keep me centered and focused. One of them is: “Greet the unknown with enthusiasm.” I love that one. It’s the one that keeps me open.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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