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Strutting the boards: what you can learn from acting

Playing "Henrietta" in Sue Bolton's "Hide and Seek!"I made my stage debut this summer in a local production in Stonington, ME. Wow. It was both scary and exciting. Acting is very different from speaking before a business audience. There is always an element of performance when you’re delivering a keynote. But this was something new.

Luckily, it was a 10-minute play written by a local playwright so learning my lines wasn’t too difficult. Along with my co-star’s lines. He was also an amateur and couldn’t seem to memorize his. I learned:

– How important cues are in helping you remember your lines (normally, you get your “cue” from the last word or phrase of the other actor)

– How to improvise and prompt my co-star for his next lines

– What to do when there is a scenery malfunction (see below)

My character, the naughty Henrietta, was sitting on the “toilet” (lid down) preparing to read her older brother’s private journal, when the heavy partition between the living room set and the bathroom toppled over. After it was righted, Henrietta (aka moi) stood up, slammed the toilet seat down again and started over. It seemed like the natural thing to do. The audience roared.

– Why live theatre is addictive. I loved the camaraderie of the many players who work together to create a production: first, the playwright and the director. Then the other actors, the stagehands, the tech folks and, finally, the audience.

We performed two nights and the audience was quite different each time. An audience that laughs and is responsive is a lot more fun.

To perform for an audience is to offer a gift. You are giving them an in-the-moment experience that, hopefully, makes them think and feel differently. In my little play, the “reveal” or secret (which Henrietta discovers in the journal) is that her gay brother fathered a child when he was in his teens. He was “trying” to be straight. It’s a story with many levels.

The takeaway is that public speaking is, or should be, a form of acting. While it’s true you’re playing “yourself” and not another character, whatever you do up on that stage should be a gift to your audience. It’s all about them – not about you.

I promised to have that thought front and center as I prepare a 5-minute talk for Ignite DC #10 on Sept. 26, 2012. More on that later!

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