One of the first things I learned in my actor training was that there is no true acting done in a vacuum – yes, folks have soliloquies and people may have long speeches, but this is all done in response to something that has propelled the character to ‘speak out.’ You have to listen/pay attention to your other actor(s) on stage to respond in an honest way.
Nothing really brought this home more than ‘the pinch and the ouch’ idea that was founded by Sanford ‘Sandy’ Meisner – an acting technique based on active listening that we learned from my first year acting teacher. The idea behind ‘the pinch and the ouch’ is based on two principles:
- Don’t do anything unless something happens to make you do it.
- What you do doesn’t depend on you; it depends on the other person.
While it may sound as exciting and revolutionary as watching grass grow, it was surprising to see how ‘theatrical’ we could be without even trying. It took me some time to strip away some of my ‘isms’ and tricks before I began to ‘get real’ with myself. Mr. Meisner illustrated this ‘act-react’ once by giving one of his students the line: “Mr. Meisner.” He waited a moment and then pinched this student suddenly, who (startled) shouted out “Mr. Meisner!”
The pinch justified the ouch – the reaction was spontaneous and truthful. Kind of like getting pinched by a crab…even if you’re provoking it.
For our first year, we delved into this whole scenario, taking it to different levels and making some pretty darn cool discoveries on how we can use this technique with everything we did – in scene studies, one-act plays, mainstage performances, etc. I personally dug it because it was simple and helped me cut through ‘performance/novela’ acting to get to a character filled with layers and connected to real emotions.
This idea of keeping open to non-verbal cues, ‘keeping it real’ and listening is something I use every day. The first thing I do when I met a new client is let them know that I will be playing to role of a sponge – taking in as much as I can (from their materials, website, testimonials, etc.), paying attention to what they are saying and not saying and really trying to get down to the personality of the company. Among other things, this active type of listening helps me develop key messages, punch up unique attributes (for pitches) and see some big picture strategy that may have been missed by the client because they are, quite frankly, running their business and may not have time to look at the company from the outside.
Moreover, the pinch and the ouch helps me see things for what they are with our clients – an incredible asset when it comes to ‘pushing back’ on bad ideas, as well as being able to anticipate potential problems. By paying attention and truly listening to clients, I’ve been amazed at some of the things I’ve seen coming (good and bad).
What ‘pinch-and-ouch’ scenarios can you think of to drive home the value of being attentive to your clients? When was the last time you responded to a client request after truly hearing them out instead of going on automatic pilot?