• Audrey Tang

The actress has learned the lines you'd like to hear: teaching emotion through applied drama


Part of the nature of the job of the actor is to behave convincingly. They are required to generate emotions which are authentic to a particular character using the playwrite's words and the director's staging. They need to respond naturally to those they share the stage with, and certainly in live theatre, if anything goes wrong they need to cover it with ease so the audience is none the wiser.

Actors are the experts of soft skills performance.

As soon as they are backstage however, they can drop their "mask" and be whoever they entered the theatre or studio as (which is why they sometimes say "never meet your heroes").

Naturally, therefore, they - or perhaps actor-directors, are some of the best proponents of soft skills. They know what nuances are needed to convey a certain emotion. They know how to communicate with their body language as well as their vocal dexterity.

But so does a good trainer, and after all, teaching soft skills is knowing the sorts of things to say in non acted situations right?

Absolutely. But the actor/director knows one thing that some trainers don't.

It's hard.

Generating emotion is generating vulnerability. In order to make something convincing you sometimes need to tap into areas of your own psyche that you may have wanted to hide. Even though you are saying someone's else's words - which you know will work - you still need to do so in a manner that is believeable, and if you've not gone to that place before, or if you would prefer not to - if your character needs to - so do you.

This is the same of soft skills training.

Sometimes you need to say things which you are uncomfortable with - not because there is anything wrong with the words themselves (ie. they aren't illegal), but because that approach is not natural to you. Sometimes in order to do this you need to look at how you would normally behave and question why in this scenario-circumstance it may not be appropriate. Sometimes you may see others do it more naturally and more easily than you and you may feel disheartened.

None of this is because you want too BECOME that role. But because you know the performance is central to its success...and you want that success in that field.

This is why I'm somewhat against soft-skills being taught through e-learning. Oh you get to know the theory, and the lines - but if it was that easy why do actors need not just rehearsal but table-reads and workshops?

Smith et al (2007) emphasised the importance of “experiential learning” (Kolb, 1984) techniques in order to practise and reflect on the ability to engage in deep acting. The process is similar to Boal’s (1979) application of “forum theatre” which enables participants to explore a difficult workplace situation and generate new coping strategies to use in future. Participants identify, then perform, a scenario they have experienced at work. Other staff members take the parts of the protagonists and the service worker acts out his or her response. The facilitator or trainer freezes the action at various points and invites different solutions and courses of action from the floor (the forum). This continues until a satisfactory resolution is found, and the strategy is then discussed and reflected on by the ‘actor’ and the rest of the group. Smith et al (2007) successfully used actors to perform the role of detained persons so that custody sergeants had the opportunity to practise their techniques in dealing with the vulnerable adults whom they routinely faced. This opportunity for experiential learning through performance, and later watching themselves on video and reflecting on their practice in conversation with other officers was welcomed by Kent Constabulary.

Within a staged “forum”, real feelings may nevertheless be generated. Recording the interaction allows workers to consider their ‘performance’. The environment is risk free in that the ‘public’ are represented by experienced actors, and the trainer is on hand to stop the task. Scope for trying out changes of behaviour can be given by re-running encounters, and workers have that chance to ‘practise’, or even be surprised by their own actions and reactions before facing the service situations in real life. This sort of training often boosts self-confidence, highlighting the positive qualities of performance. It may also identify areas for development, ideally reducing the fear of making mistakes and of asking for help. This can also be an enjoyable group experience which in turn promotes mutual understanding, exchange of knowledge and informed support. Daly et al (2009) also used improvisation to train flight attendants, finding similar results in terms of the process building self-confidence in emotional performance.

This is what makes my team, CLICK unique With over 20 years in theatre (including membership of Equity), I also use applied drama. This isn't so that it's "fun" or "edutaining" (awful word!) ...that is a bonus of course, but because it's the way to instill confidence in performance. It's the way to support vulnerability. I too utilise professional actors who are breifed to respondin a certain way so it's the way to practice those "lines" - those soft skills - in a safe context where you can reflect on them and adapt your choices.

Soft skills are professional skills.

#softskills #softskillstraining #experientiallearning #acting #Training #CLICKTraining

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