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The expressive self

Summer is a busy time for me: I teach full time for a pre-college summer program at American University's School of Communications, meet with clients, and try to sandwich in some creative work as well. This year I am researching a play I hope to have drafted by December. I also wrote a one-act that will have its premiere reading on Labor Day (see info below).

And I have seen some amazing theatre in NYC and D.C.: A Doll's House, Part 2;  Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812; and An Octoroon. I highly recommend them all!

All these activities got me thinking once again about the intersection of public speaking and acting. I keep coming back to the fact that acting is about action. To see Laurie Metcalfe physicalize the pain and frustration of Nora Helmer as she paces the stage like a caged animal, or to watch Jon Hudson Odom transform before our very eyes into three extremely different characters is to experience the essence of great acting. Because in acting, as in life, it's not just the words you say or how you say them that reveals your thoughts and feelings. It's how your body expresses them, clarifying--or contradicting--the words themselves.

Acting teachers and directors tell actors "show, don't tell," and as a playwright I follow that advice, too. The fact is, we are all so much more than our words. And that truth is fundamental to the art and craft of drama.

Just as acting is about acton, so is public speaking. My students will tell you I drum this into them: "speaking is a physical activity." And my clients hear me say "get out of your head and into your body!" But the truth is, to effectively communicate you need to do more than think about and organize your ideas. That's just the first step. To get those ideas in front of others (literally) you need to a way to get them there. And since we haven't evolved to using the Vulcan mind-meld, speaking is, by necessity, physical. So you must engage your body as a communications tool. Easy to understand, hard to do. Often students and clients tell me they have practiced when they have only "gone over" their presentations in their minds, not putting the words in their mouths and getting the speech into their bodies. And then they wonder why they stumble and fall!

Get physical. Use your body as an expressive instrument. I don't mean plot out your gestures or be overly concerned about "body language." I mean tap into the energy that is at the core of your being. That is the essential you. That makes your spin on any topic, any argument, any pitch uniquely, authentically yours. Give yourself permission to use your body when you speak. You'll feel liberated and free. And wouldn't that be a nice change?


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