“The Personal Connection” is one of the greatest tools actors utilize to effectively embody the role of a “character,” and it’s also an invaluable tool to channel your greatest and most authentic “you” in the courtroom.
I’d like to share a story with you about an experience I had while attending the Juilliard School in New York City as an eager young actor. Perhaps it’s one of the best examples I can think of that demonstrateshow to “make the personal connection” and how to utilize this important tool in my work with trial lawyers in communicating and connecting the winning story to the jury.
In a scene I’d been working on with another fellow student, our teacher, respectfully known as “Masters,” practically destroyed me in front of the class. Masters would specifically switch to scene work every other month or so. On that particular day, my scene partner, Ben, volunteered the two of us to go on stage and do our scene. I wished to God Ben hadn’t of done that. I wished we’d have at least discussed it first. But it would have been a cardinal sin and a true mark of an amateur if you ever turned down the opportunity to perform a scene in front of Masters. So I gathered my courage and went up there in front of the class and performed the scene from the play “Becket or The Honor of God” in which I played King Henry II and Ben played Thomas Becket, The King’s former friend. Coughing uncontrollably as usual, Masters made Ben and I do the scene a second time. And then a third time. And then a fourth. Halfway into the fifth time we did the scene, I stopped. I stood still in front of the class for what seemed like forever, before saying, “I can’t.”
Coughing as he spoke, Masters said with great satisfaction, “Hallelujah. He’s arrived! So do you think you can stop ‘phoning in’ and be willing to try something different?” (“Phoning In” is actor’s expression for “faking it” on stage.)
“I don’t know why it isn’t working, you know?” I said. “I’ve bled my ‘objective’ dry! I keep asking myself, what do you want? I mean, what do I want from Ben, and how am I going to get it, and what’s my obstacle, so I don’t know, I just don’t have a clue why this scene isn’t working!”
Masters responded, through his ragged voice– the old teacher loved it when actors got to this place where they were willing to try new ideas through sheer and utter desperation– “Good. Now you’re ready to play the scene.”
I just lifted my hands up in the air, helplessly. “Great! How?”
“Where are you?” Masters asked me.
“Here,” I said. “I’m here. In class. It’s a Friday.”
“No, in the scene,” Master said. “Your circumstances.”
“Oh. In a field. A huge field,” I answered.
“What time of year is it?” he asked me.
“Is it cold?”
“Very. Very cold.”
“Very cold? Cold enough for a cashmere sweater or a ski jacket?”
“Freezing. I’m freezing.”
“Freezing is definitely different than cold, isn’t it?”
“Keep painting the picture.”
“Snow’s everywhere. Up to my knees.”
“Good. Stay with that cold.”
“Wind is whipping at me from all sides.”
“I’d rather be in a warm castle having this conversation with Beckett. But we’re out here. And it sucks.”
“Good. Play the cold.”
In front of the class, I went through the motions of shivering up there, hugging my arms, stomping my feet on the ground… playing the cold… until the cold became very real for me. I believed it. Just like I were actually in a big field freezing from cold. In an instant, the scene felt better, even before I’d uttered a line.
“Now…” Masters said, “Play the scene.”
The scene flew, of course. The words were perfectly placed. I let it rip. My character dropped into me, or I dropped into the character like butter. My objective soared with the lines from the play beautifully, smoothly. I forgot everything I was trying to accomplish– everything I was trying to control in that scene– all because I played that cold… until I wasn’t focusing on anything else but that cold. Afterwards, through his coughing that made it too difficult to speak, Masters gave me the thumbs up.
Whenever I’ve been in places in my life where my emotion (whether I’m happy or sad) is a freight train hurtling far away from me and I can’t seem to catch up to it, I will literally say to myself, “Play the cold…” Beyond the work on stage, the value of these words allows me to stay in the moment, offering themselves as the road to perfect acceptance no matter how ugly or unacceptable the present circumstances may appear. They tell me that this moment and this situation is good enough and what can I do with it.
I share this story with you to show you how you can make the personal connection too while telling “the winning story.” If you want to get deep into the story, just ask yourself, what would it be like if you were in a huge field freezing? How would you respond to the conditions you were in?
Play the cold.
Working With You And Your Team
I’d love to discuss working with you and your team on your next case. Please feel free to give me a call. Among the pre-trial and jury trial consulting that I share, here are other ways to benefit from Tell The Winning Story:
- Law Firm CLE Customized Workshops
- Executive Silver/ Gold/ Platinum Coaching Programs
- Monthly CLE Accredited Workshops