On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Actor training and Presenting

What makes me qualified to teach Presentation Skills?

When my son was born, I had taken a break from acting for about a year and was working almost entirely with very novice actors, business people and educators on voice and presentation skills. For the first time in my life I was not immersed in the world of the actor and had very little contact with that community. At that time my brother-in-law was performing in a show so I went to see the show to support him (and because it was a great excuse to do one of the things I enjoy most). The show was an exceptional piece (which isn’t always the case) but mostly I was struck by the elegance, the power, the stature and ease of the actors. Having spent time away from this world, I had forgotten how the years and years of training added up to create master communicators as well as actors. These particular actors all had master’s degrees from very fine internationally recognized institutions as well as long lists of professional experience with some of the finest theatre companies in the country. It is no surprise that so many actors go on to be Public Speakers, Leaders of Organizations and Politicians. One of my students once told me that Ronald Reagan had been quoted as saying he didn’t know how any politician could succeed without training as an actor.

Now Actor training is always a bit of a mystery to the general public. What happens between those closed doors and why would it help me? I spent my childhood in three different places outside the home, one was in acting classes (my love) and the other was at political rally’s (my father’s choice) and the final was at church (my mother’s choice) and I think that it was in these three arenas that I was able to develop and assess different modes of communicating with people. In the arena of politics and church there was very definitely some politicians who were great communicators and some who were very poor. On the other hand, almost every actor was an extremely strong communicator and that made perfect sense to me. In the case of politicians so much of their training and interest could lie in other areas and although the ministers might have loved the liturgy and had a great spiritual connection their technical skills might not have been developed.

So I ask the question again, “What does actor training look like?” Contrary to what other people might believe, actor training looks at some very simple concepts in a very complex, deep, and layered way. It asks how can a person:

1) comfortably be in their body as other people watch them, without any of the physical ticks or patterning that may have developed throughout one’s life?

2) move in a way that expresses their thoughts fully, making use of their entire body?

3) speak fully from a point of deep connection to their soul and move another human being with their sound?

4) listen fully and respond instinctively and honestly?

5) Weave and create an intricate and vibrant story from their imagination?

The means by which these goals are attained are varied and creative but underneath them all is the development of the person to overcome those negative thoughts that might shut him/her down; stop them from expressing fully. Actor training is never ending, it begins at the moment one is born, learning from watching others, and continues every time an actor steps both onstage and offstage. I believe it is the same for every good presenter. Life is the teacher and we learn when we have the confidence to step bravely forward and present ourselves and our stories to an empty room or an audience of 500.