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Where is the intersection between theater and the workplace?

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Workplace drama

Workplace drama

It’s funny, there is always a lot of crossover imagery between the stage and the workplace. Objectives, heroes, drama kings and queens, getting the right people to play different roles, tragic leadership flaws, double-crosses and so forth. Now that I am taking a step away from the office environment for a bit and rekindling my acting training, I am fascinated by the parallel lessons that can be drawn between the two worlds. A few months ago, I wrote here about the useful skills that people can gain from acting training – things like hitting your marks, learning how to improvise (always say yes), and using your full body as an instrument of communication.

The insights I have been gaining over the last couple of weeks can add to and enhance these earlier lessons. Here are a few ideas that may help you bring more “drama” to your workplace:

  • The art of analysing the script: The playright provides a framework of words, characters and given circumstances. The challenge is to figure out what isn’t there – it is the job of the actors to fill in the missing pieces with meaning. Otherwise we’d just get up there and read, and the crowds would stay away! As leaders in organizations, we should also be looking at the scripts we have been handed, and really take the time to analyse them. Who wrote this script? Are there other versions or other scripts I am not seeing? What is missing from the story on the page? What do I and my team need to add in order to flesh out the full story and make it truly inspiring?
  • The art of soft focus: We are trained in movement class to start to use our peripheral vision to see who else is in the room, and to avoid banging into them. Even when the director tells us to go crazy and flail around to all four corners of the room, we remain aware of each other. So it should be with the competing interests in an organization. We should be creating cultures where the differences are expressed, respected and where soft focus is encouraged to avoid bruising.
  • The art of understanding a character’s objectives: At the most basic level, characters act out of need. The job of the actor is to consider what it is their character needs, what is in the way, and what they are going to do about it. This last piece is where the actor’s choices make the difference between a truly memorable performance and a more ordinary one. For example, your character may need more than anything to gain the love of another character, but there are lots of ways to get there (intimidation, charm, kindness, trickery, deception, collusion etc. etc.). In the workplace, look around at the characters in your midst. What is their overarching need? Are they getting it met? Are you helping or hindering? Why? The more you can understand the other actors in your midst, the better you can manage around their actions.
  • The art of going larger: The training at the Stella Adler Studio is always exhorting us to be LARGER! What this means is that instead of making acting choices that are safe and tame, make larger, more dramatic and more passionate choices. Is your character trying to “tell” (yawn…) somebody something? Or are they trying to “convince” (better…) somebody of something? Or are they trying to “scare the sh*t” (now we’re getting somewhere…) out of somebody? Similarly in organizational life, making larger choices makes for a more interesting performance!

 

When in doubt, go large

I want to hear what you think! Please feel free to weigh in here with your comments. To explore having me speak to your team or group on drama in the workplace and other related themes, please get in touch with me at rob@robduncan.com or via the contact tab on this page.

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