Food for Thought

Articles about acting and how it can be used to harness the power of persuasion and positive communication in the courtroom so as to win the minds and hearts of the jury can be incredibly motivational and inspirational. But it cannot take the place of studying and practicing with a qualified instructor.

Very simply, acting is NOT a spectator sport. If you come away with nothing more than one thing after reading these articles I hope that it is this, “Reading about acting isn’t the same as experiencing it.” Preparation and learning by doing are critical elements of honing this craft. Honing your craft means that you’ve conditioned yourself to the point where you can’t help but do certain things in a certain way anymore. After all, craft is habit.

When master actors act, their craft becomes invisible. This is why good acting – real acting – is impossible to spot. It is utterly seamless, bearing an uncanny resemblance to real life. Martin Sheen and the late Patricia Neal are among the best. They make it look like anyone can do it.

Two years of training has taught me that mastery of the actor’s craft can be won only through a frustrating process of trial and error. Fall on your face, get up, and try again. When I was in Seaside Heights last summer on the boardwalk, I saw a T-Shirt with a slogan that captures the essence of how demanding acting is: “I’ve been kicked, beaten down, trampled over, dragged through the mud and I keep coming back for more.”

To say that every performing artist should have the discipline of a professional athlete is a complete understatement. To be truly good at anything takes a full investment of your energies. These days, performing artists spend a disproportionate amount of time honing external skills such as voice, speech, and movement. These are very important, but not to the detriment of your inner life. Until a performing artist learns to work from the core of their own truth, all the voice, speech, and movement training in the world will only succeed in creating a skilled puppet.

Several years ago, I had the unique opportunity of training under the late Donald Fiedler, a legendary criminal defense attorney in his own right who was also an actor. He shared with me a story that has inspired me throughout my career.

It came from a play written by Gerald Uelman, entitled, “Bryan.” The play explores the life of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow’s adversary in the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the play, there is a scene when William discovers the magic he has over audiences.

William told his beloved wife his secret:

“ … Mary, last night I found I have power over an audience. I can move them as I please. It was an incredible feeling. The whole room was focused on me, waiting for my next word. I spoke from my heart, and realized my audience was listening with their hearts. Knowing what is in a person’s heart gives you enormous power. It is a power that can move people and inspire them.”

Just as William recognized the power that he had over his audience when he spoke from his heart, a trial lawyer who is not afraid to be emotionally vulnerable possesses that very same power over a jury. Don’t be afraid to reconnect with everything within you that’s unique and special. This will help you to identify those traits that naturally captivate others. For example, why people value you, why they fall in love with you, why they follow you, and why they promote you.

Knowing who you are when you are at your best provides an aspirational vision of what you can live into in your work and in your life. Dare to be great!

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