Thursday, September 27, 2012

Acting Techniques for Everyday Life: A Book Review

Yesterday I compared the two disciplines of Acting & Speaking - separating them in spots, joining them in others. I had a couple of comments suggesting that the two feed into each other - or as Michael Erwine succinctly put it "Acting and Speaking inform one another".

I completely agree, and today I'll review a book that isn't about speaking, per se, but, as the title reads: Acting Techniques for Everyday Life, by Jane Marla Robbins.

Logically separated into four parts: Prepare Like an Actor, Nuts and Bolts Techniques, More Tricks of the Trade, and Real-Life Challenges, Robbins covers a lot of ground, with something to readers of most any experience level in acting OR speaking.

She writes from inside her own mind, sharing her thought processes at each step, vs. taking a lecture approach. Her own experience as a professional actress is heavily drawn upon, as she reveals her failures and fears, as well as her successes. It isn't done so much to establish her credibility, rather she reveals it anecdotally where appropriate. She weaves in stories about her coachees as well, explaining their challenges and the work done to overcome them, and occasionally drops a name here or there, discussing the techniques of Dustin Hoffman and Marlon Brando, without ever slipping into 'big shot' mode. If anything, she shows remarkable humility throughout the book, despite her achievements.

Part One: Prepare Like an Actor describes techniques from how to stand - feet under your hips, hands at your sides, watch that sunken chest - to vocal exercises to relaxation techniques you may never have considered as 'speaking preparation'.

While you might think "Oh, of course, I knew THAT", the real question this book answered was WHY we should use certain techniques, and made me re-evaluate whether I actually DID what I knew to do.

Part Two: Nuts and Bolts Techniques includes role-playing, memorization techniques, playing with props and costumes, and even some improv exercises. As I mentioned in yesterday's post (though not necessarily this clearly), speakers should act WITHIN their presentation, just not AS their presentation.

Learning how to create characters on stage is a valuable skill when you create dialogue or tell a story about someone else's experience - this section will invariably help you in your growth process if you actually do the exercises she suggests.

My favorite part of this section is 'The Magic "As If"'. Her accounts of Henry and Pam changing their internal stories about what they were capable of were inspiring, and if you still can't quite overcome your fear to speak, to get a coach, or to go to your local Toastmasters club, this technique is a winner. More experienced speakers likely use "As If" thinking without necessarily knowing why. Robbins again does a great job exploring the why factor, for those who need more concrete reasoning behind their leaps of Faith.

Part Three: More Tricks of the Trade discusses gestures, breathing techniques, the power of music, and  her personal technique of using mental symbols to get into and stay in the right state on stage, called "The Inner Walnut". Again, ideas are presented in detail, with both the why and the how, without overdoing it.

Part Four: Real-Life Challenges is both the most valuable aspect of the book to me, as well as the most self-helpish and occasionally psychologically mystical.

It also specifically addresses public speaking - suggesting our fear often comes from suppressed childhood memories, fear of failure, even a subconscious fear of death for lack of performance. She discusses how to feel 'safe and love' while speaking, as well as keeping the passion for your message alive even if you've presented it a thousand times.

Jane Marla Robbins
Other aspect in Part Four include handling yourself at social gatherings, playing your ideal self, and feeling sexy - not something I'd really concerned myself with as a speaker or an actor. Interesting thoughts, nonetheless.

Acting Techniques for Everyday Life is well-written, easy-to-read, and often one of the most insightful books about speaking, without being about speaking, I have read. When the review copy arrived, I was a bit determined not to like it, but the more I read, the more I warmed up to both the author and the ideas she shared. Her case studies were evenly split between male and female, usually offering one of each for each major concept. She also had small sidebars titled 'If it works for actors, it can work for you' - helping us transfer each idea from the acting world to the real world, or, for our purposes, to the speaking world.

Worth your money, worth your reading time, and...worth exercising and applying Ms. Robbins techniques.

Authors Disclaimer: I received Acting Techniques for Everyday Life as a review copy, with no payment in exchange for a review. All link within the review are non-affiliate links.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, so I didn't know you'd mentioned me until I got the following message from one of my friends: "You're even more famous! I want to be like Mike!"

    So I guess that means both of us are famous?

    Great post!

    And not just 'cause you mentioned me. ;-)



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