There’s a tendency, perhaps fostered from childhood games of make-believe, to assume that actors on the stage are ‘pretending’, and the rest of us are natural all the time.
As we reflect more deeply on the multiple roles we inhabit in our work and personal lives, the distinction between actors and the rest of us becomes more blurred. Perhaps the actors are not pretending? Perhaps the rest of us are always in role?
As we move through our days, in all social interactions, we consciously or unconsciously change our behaviour to create the impression we wish to convey. We may not think about it, but we do it. We seek to come across as an authoritative manager, a caring companion, an intelligent co-worker, or a fun-loving friend. Or perhaps we just want to efface ourselves and fit in. In all cases we adapt our behaviour, more or less effectively, and that communicates itself to those around us.
We all have audiences. It takes skill and discipline to control the impression we create, and to make our external behaviour congruent with the emotion or information we wish to transmit. When we are not skilful, our behaviour is out of alignment with our intention, and we confuse people, say the wrong thing, or come across as untrustworthy. This diminishes us. When we are skilful, we can choose how we come across. This makes us effective and powerful.
Professional actors are skilled in making this choice. Ultimately, taking on a role, on the stage or at work, has nothing to do with pretence. It is about connecting confidently to a chosen character trait that we discover within ourselves, and then behaving true to that character. Actors are not pretending. They are being themselves, but more so. If we can accept this view of the actor’s skill, then we can learn from them. We can use their skills and disciplines to align our behaviours to the role that is expected of us. This not only makes us more effective in our professional lives, but also enables us to discover, and be surprised by, who we are.
Drama is about intense concentration and maximum expressivity of the voice, the heart, the mind and body, disciplines that are becoming rare in the high stress, high speed world of the computerized, corporate world. Thus, exposure to drama reactivates and channels creative, emotional capacities. These capacities are essential for strong leaders, effective consultants, and powerful collegiate teams undertaking the difficult tasks of today’s business world.
Yet, there is among academics and management students a skepticism about drama-based communication programmes – a sense that “playing” is frivolous, that it can’t be “real” work or study. But this fails to take into account the fact that play can be a deadly serious, even dangerous, business. Drama and play are essential activities for animals and humans in that they rehearse possibilities that may come up in real situations and they reveal to us the exhilaration of being alive, creative and free.
Handling one’s own feelings and recognising the feelings of others is an economic necessity because of the urgent need to work in a way which is productive, efficient, collaborative and healthy. In this turbulent world, today’s employee can tomorrow be a supplier, manager, competitor or regulator. Thus the ability to engage with people effectively is essential. You never know what is going to happen, and the only power we have is the power of relationships.
Theatre-based communication programmes make a huge contribution towards the restoration of wholeness in the person at work and towards the adaptability and creativity, and thus ultimately the survival of the organisation