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Archive for the ‘Leveraging Acting for PR’ Category

denzelGetting a degree in acting takes a fair amount of guts and craziness – especially given the fact that I went to Baylor with the intent on getting a degree to get me ready for medical school.  It’s one thing to act like a buffoon in a high school – it’s another thing to think you can give an Al Pacino or Toni Collette level performance or yuck it up like Steve Carrell or Christina Applegate and get paid for it.  Who goes through years of training to put themselves in the midst of people judging you based on your ‘look,’ personality, marketability, ethnicity and talent? The ‘certifiable’ kind of person.

 

Crazy or not, once I made the decision to fully commit to getting a degree in acting, I dove in head first with my studies.  Getting to know more about ‘how to act’ was (and still is) exhilarating.  Like walking a tightrope, there’s something a little dangerous, exciting and surprising with each gig.  Surprisingly enough, being able to relay that kind of thrill to an audience can be particularly difficult;  but it’s something you ALWAYS want to accomplish.  So, when you see someone execute this kind of thing on a Black Belt/Sensei level, it is truly amazing.  This is why I am overwhelmed with awe whenever I see Denzel Washington’s performance on Training Day.

 

 

The first time I saw Training Day, I was (I kid you not) giddy with a flurry of emotions – jumping up and down like I got my first bike on Christmas morning.  Not like this is news to anyone, but Denzel’s take on Detective Alonso Harris in this film is picture perfect.  From the moment you see Alonso, you are immediately taken in with his strength, power and wolf-like charm, while, at the same time, completely afraid of what he can and will do.

 

And even though we may never achieve the Sensei-like status as Denzel Washington, this is the kind of energy and adventure that we want to achieve with all of our clients.  We want each effort to have a sense of  

 

  • Danger – Even if you have a ‘slow build’ to a particular campaign, why not swing for the bleachers?  You want your team to feel as if they’re on a mission – and you can’t really have a mission without establishing some sort of ‘unachievable’ goal. Additionally, the more ‘dangerous’ the task, the tighter your group gets cause it’s all hands on deck.
  • Excitement – People get taken in when they see something that excites them.  Think about the time when the Simpsons movie came out when they partnered up with 7-11 or when the newest iPhone was released.  These efforts worked well partly because they were personal, immediate and engaging.   When you tap into something like that, it creates conversations and makes fast friends. 
  • Surprise – I recall seeing Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction one time say that one of the biggest things that they strive for in their music is to achieve some sort of surprise.  In a communications effort, you can do this by really stretching your team to mine the ways your audience can make these flashes of discovery.   It makes sense because those little moments when the rug is pulled out from under you create memories.  Memories that are altogether intimate.

 

Like Denzel’s performance in Training Day, what are you doing these days to create a sense of danger in your communications efforts?  When was the last time you were truly excited about your marketing campaign?  When was the last time you felt like King Kong in your gig?

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poor yorick“Noo!!! You’ve got to feel the way those words make you…It’s like when you bite into your favorite piece of cake that you haven’t had in years! You’ve GOT TO have that energy SEEPING THROUGH you, that FIRE!  It just makes you so giddy, you just…just…aahhhg!! It’s WONDERFUL!…You know what I’m saying…?”

 

We had an idea of what she was talking about – even though it was Shakespeare we were working on.  But, in truth, there was NO WAY we could get to that level of understanding…not yet.

 

But there stood this powerful woman with the strength, passion and animation of an 18 year old – urging us to take the text to a deeper level.  She was fearless and commanded an incredible amount of respect.  And even though she was in her 60s and stood just over five feet, she towered over every one of her students with love, ardor and anxiety.

 

We spent many an hour dissecting scenes, working the iambic pentameter and trying to make sense of what ‘Billy Shakes’ was trying to say.  But more than anything else, we were trying to humanize characters like Iago, Bottom, Petruchio or Katherine.  HOW could we make their lines relevant to our audiences?  What would make them care?  How can we make them ‘get it’ and not feel restless after the first few minutes of a play?  Keeping an audience happy (or from getting bored) with a contemporary play is hard enough.

 

 

But our professor was tireless in her pursuit to help us make it important for the audience – they have to care about what you’re saying and who you are.  We had to work with what we had – nothing more.  We couldn’t dress up the passages with some slang.  We weren’t allowed to throw in some nonsense from our own particular bag o’ tricks.  We would try.  But she would thump us quickly, screaming from the back of the auditorium, “No-No-Noooo!!  That’s not gonna work here, buddy!”  We had to keep simple.  We were building a foundation and framing for a home she would tell us – “Once that’s firmly set, then we could see about painting the walls with our own colors and patterns.”

 

Yes, it was a little nutty, but it worked.  And here’s how it works for me today:

  • Dissecting the Text – As we found the rhythms and meter (the iambic pentameter) in Shakespeare’s plays, we’d find some incredible nuggets in the words he wrote for his actors.  Much like this dissection of our characters, I make sure that everyone in our team takes the time to pore over whatever documentation our clients give us when we begin a new relationship.  By doing this, we often find some aspects of their business that, quite frankly, has been overlooked – especially if it’s a more tech-oriented company.
  • My Bag O’ Tricks – By getting my hand slapped (most of the time vocally with a ‘Nooo!’) whenever I would try to bring in a familiar look, voice, etc., it helped me to understand that there really are a variety of ways to do a scene.  This has translated so well in PR and Social Media, since our whole goal (as an industry) is (or at least it should be) to deliver a message in a unique and meaningful way.  No BS.  No Tricks.  A good strong message will carry you through. And it will most certainly support a myriad of ideas and tactics…easily.
  • Keep the Audience Awake – Shakespeare done well (truly) is a lot more difficult than you may think.  So when you see it done right, it’s a ROCKIN show. One of the things that supports this occurrence is when you keep an unbiased eye on as to what your play is telling an audience and how.  In PR and Social Media, your overall approach is so very important.  In fact, the infamous and insightful Richard Laermer said yesterday on Twitter that “Tone…is everything.”  How you say something to your audience (be it your current customers, potential customers, business leaders, in a social network, etc.) can damage/propel a company’s reputation faster than you may think.  Consider the messes made when you think about Motrin or David Letterman.

 

What tactics are you using today that you learned from an odd job growing up?  Who is your nutty n’ loving inspiration that keeps you digging in deeper for something better today?

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mask characterization2Towards the end of my freshman year at Baylor, one of the professors in the theatre program was granted the ‘ok’ to give an experimental performance to all of the students.  This professor has a tremendous work ethic and demands that you put as much of yourself (mentally and physically) in each performance – his presentation was a prime example of this.  It was called ‘Birth Chair’ – a cirque du soleil type piece where he spent 15 minutes s-l-o-w-l-y delivering himself from this chair.

 

It was odd, uncomfortable and so far out of left field that I both dreaded and looked forward to my sophomore class with him on Mask Characterization – a class that aimed to help participants take some vocal, physical and mental risks as actors, while developing some very strong tools for ‘unmasked’ character development.  The class was a trip – not only because we all had to wear tights (male & female) and go though some strenuous physical activity; but also because it encouraged us to really find that ‘mischievous sprite’ within ourselves

 

Now, while this whole process may sound a bit bizarre or weird, that experience gave me a lot to tap into in my work in public relations and social media:

  • Process for Discovery – the process of marinating a piece of meat was a lot like the process we took in class.  Some days, it felt like we spent WAY TOO LONG to handle one task; but there was a method to our instructor’s madness.  Had we rushed this process, we would’ve come out of the gate with something half baked.  It’s the same with our clients – unless I give the team (on both sides) the freedom to discover what make the other side exceptional and valuable, we are doomed to fail.  When we give ourselves some proper getting-to-know-you time, oftentimes we uncover some opportunities that may have otherwise been overlooked.
  • Push Some Boundaries – Why does a PR or Social Media program have to follow the same paths that everyone else is taking? Yes, there are some things that work well, but that doesn’t mean that they work EVERY TIME, nor does it mean that any one tactic may work as well for this client over that one.  If it rings true to a message and its audience, then there’s no reason to stretch the limits of fresh look on external communications.
  • Does It Have to Make Sense? – One of my classmates (20 years old at the time) developed a character that ended up being a cantankerous old man that loved chocolate cake and hated flat-footed women.  Much to this old man’s dismay, the best chocolate cake in town was made by a flat-footed neighbor that was sweet on him (pun intended). Even though this geezer was a bit rough on the edges, there was something very sweet, affectionate and endearing about him.  This 20-year old kid had NO BUSINESS trying to do this; but by marinating in this process, it just made sense.  So, if you take the time to brainstorm on different ways to communicate your message and come upon something completely unique that works on some level (without compromising your client’s reputation), WHY NOT give it a go?

 

What ‘birth chairs’ in your life have you run into that have helped you push some boundaries?  What is your process of discovery when you begin a working relationship with a new client?

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pinch ouchOne 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?

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theatre masksIn the ever-growing files of the “He Said What…?” cabinet, it may (or may not) come as a surprise to you that I graduated from Baylor University (Sic Em’ Bears!) with a degree in Acting. 

 

Yes…Acting.

 

From the time I was old enough to successfully sneak into R-rated films, I had grown to admire actors like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Deniro and Sally Field – not only because of their intensity, but also because of their ability to truly make a character ‘breathe’ a certain sense of vulnerability and coolness at the same time.

 

So, when the opportunity came around for me to take an ‘acting for non-majors’ class, I jumped on it.  Not fully grasping what great and fun things awaited me, I told myself that I’d stay the course with my degree plan and use this class to have some fun.  And I did pretty well with this ‘plan’…for half a semester. 

 master thespian

Now, you may think that this acting degree may not have done much for what I’m doing these days with public relations and social media.  But I say, “Nay Nay!” There are TONS of things I am using (every day) that I got from my Shakespearian Acting class, Meisner Technique sessions, Movement courses, etc.  More often than not, these principles and techniques come to use without me actually thinking about it. 

 

It is with this in mind that I will begin to elaborate a bit more on how my actor training has made me a stronger public relations professional…next week.  In a series of four posts, I will argue that (among other things) wearing tights in a mask characterization class helped me in more ways than one – in public relations and social media.

 

Tights…masks…classical theatre (spelled ‘re’)…post modern performance…it’s on!

 

Til’ then, I ask you to search out and consider what odd/unusual training or job has come to help you in your current career?  What have you learned in you last gig that has helped you better understand social media?

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