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Acting Students and Trial Lawyers

16 February 2011

I teach young actors at Pomona College in Claremont California. And, along with my brilliant partner and wife, Katherine James, I teach trial lawyers. These two groups of folks have a lot in common.

The young students at Pomona are quite brilliant. Their analytical skills and insight into themes and their ability to express all this in writing is very highly developed. They keep track of a lot of information in their brains and for the most part are very adept at the intellectual side of acting and actor preparation. But, getting up, on their feet, and DOING is still a daunting prospect.

Similarly with the attorneys we work with, their intellectual/analytical skills are very highly developed. And they are comfortable with that. But, again, getting up and DOING is hard.

Performance skills, the ability to express yourself gracefully and effectively with the full range of your vocal, physical, intellectual and emotional self is not easy. It means you can easily fail. That is not be perfect….be seen as foolish, clumsy, inelegant or at least not clear.

Our great acting mentor William Ball, founder of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, always exhorted us as students to FAIL BIG….FAIL GLORIOUSLY. And research bears this out.

Kindergarten students who tried most and failed and KEPT TRYING learned more, accomplished more, than the kids who held back.

Perfection is the oppressor, the great essayist and writer Annie Lamont has said. Waiting to try something until you have worked it all out, until it is perfected will get you nowhere as a performer. And above all trial lawyers, like actors, are performers. Live storytellers. Leading the listeners, the jurors, judges, panels, audiences to an inevitable conclusion from your point of view.

So, rehearsal is essential. Try it out….your opening, closing, argument, presentation….OUT LOUD….STANDING UP…..being willing for it not to work, not to be RIGHT or PERFECT. FAIL BIG . FAIL GLORIOUSLY.

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One Comments to “Acting Students and Trial Lawyers”

  1. Great first piece Alan. I just love the line “FAIL BIG. FAIL GLORIOUSLY.” What a terrific life and business lesson for ALL of us.

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