Matt Beresford, Senior Expert & Theatre Director
The key principles of acting are a useful tool when considering how to enhance impact.
Unfortunately, acting carries with it many misconceptions. At the most basic level, we think of acting as simply pretence – faking emotions to manipulate an audience – and therefore associate it with being inauthentic. Furthermore, ‘luvvies’ are seen as show offs, displaying the worst kind of self-centred extroversion.
Whilst some actors are indeed ‘big personalities’, the process whereby an actor creates a character has many lessons for how we can improve our own impact.
Acting is action. The actor uses her voice and body to impact both other characters on stage and the audience. She listens with great care to understand whether or not her words are having the impact she wants and if successful she will know by the action the other character takes in response. But it’s the feelings of the other characters she is most keen to effect – by impacting on the other character’s emotions change is likely to be more powerful and sustained (and more moving for the audience to watch). Indeed, It is this ‘feeling’ that will stay with the audience long after they have forgotten every line.
A lot of work goes into creating the conditions whereby an actor can explore this deeper connection. All of the technical, physical and vocal aspects of course, but underpinning much of the work are a number of key principles that we explore in great detail in our new course, Leadership Secrets of Theatre Directing:
● Who am I? I
In a realistic play, this covers an endless series of questions – from the character’s age and upbringing to whether she is cold or nervous when entering the scene. By understanding this, the actor uses her imagination to consider how she enters and then reacts, in character, to what happens.
● Where am I?
What is the place that the character is entering, does she know it, where has she just been, does she know what awaits her?
● What do I want?
The objective, intention or motivation, both at the overall level (to raise enough money so my family will be OK when I die of cancer) right through to the micro level – what can she say or do next to get what she wants in the immediate scenario? This is the key to all acting.
● Who/What is in my way? (Obstacle)
In Breaking Bad, Walter White’s obstacle is the police, other criminals and, internally, his own sense of morality. Each scene only has interest for the audience because there are characters on stage in conflict, either with themselves or with other characters.
\There are direct parallels from these principles to life in general and certainly to business. When we present to a group, or walk into a meeting without a clear sense of what we want to achieve, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Whether or not the meeting is ‘yours’, your objective and reason for being in it should be clear.
As in acting, your impact in any setting will be far more powerful if you think about more than the rational. Try to also consider what it is you want the people to whom you are speaking to feel. You can delight them with some shocking information or you can inspire them with your vision of future collective success. If you ‘move’ them their response will be far stronger and long-lasting.
Therefore consider the head (the rational response), the heart (the emotional one) and the feet (what action do you want them to take in response) – only by an action THEY take can you know if you have achieved what you set out to – i.e. they sign off on the new head you have asked for, or they agree the contract!
To learn more about how theatre techniques can help both your impact and your leadership join me on the Leadership Secrets of Theatre Directing course on November 1st.