Smart Moves: All the office is a stage

What can actors teach to people with 'real' jobs? Fiona McNeill goes behind the scenes to find out

As that most famous of dramatists once wrote: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players". Indeed, many of us feel like bit-part players in a second-rate soap, and nowhere more so than at work.

Nevertheless, the idea of bringing actors into the workplace to advise on corporate life sounds bizarre.

Yet, surprisingly, a number of large and seemingly traditional companies have been doing just that and have found it an effective way of boosting morale and improving staff relations.

"People have preconceived ideas about actors," said Jill Connick of training company Actors in Management. "They think, 'Oh no, John Inman, men in tights', but it isn't like that at all.

"Acting is about communication," she continued. "As an actor, you don't necessarily need to have detailed knowledge of a particular industry. What you can offer is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Problems at work are hardly ever about technical things. They're about people and how they relate to each other."

Connick founded Aim in 1994 with fellow thespian Edward Harbour whom she'd met some years earlier in Macbeth. Both disillusioned with the profession, they sought a wider application for their talents.

Aim uses professional actors to bring training sessions to life. Typically, the actors perform a workplace scenario for the training group, illustrating topics such as bullying in the workplace, breaking news of redundancies, building confidence and dealing with performance appraisals.

Rather than passively watching a video, members of the group are invited by the facilitator to comment on what they have seen. They may make suggestions on how the characters could have handled things differently or even interact with the characters themselves to see how they would cope with the situation.

While the actors remain in character, employees are not asked to role- play. Freed from the embarrassment of hamming it up in front of colleagues, they are better able to concentrate on the training issues and learn new ways of communicating with each other.

"A large part of our work is what we call 'coaching'," Ms Connick explained. "We ask people to observe the characters very carefully, to listen to what is said and, also, to notice what is unexpressed. They may even want to ask the characters some questions. Maybe there's something they've always wanted to ask their boss, for example, to try and understand their behaviour a bit better. We give them a chance to have a practice run. People usually really enjoy it, but it's not frivolous. We ask them to do a lot of thinking."

Staff from companies such as the Lloyds TSB Group, P&O Nedlloyd and Sun Life of Canada have taken Aim's training sessions. Jenny Knight, Corporate Personnel Officer for Brighton and Hove Council called on Aim to launch the council's new training initiative at a management conference of 150 people earlier this year.

"We wanted to show a different approach," she said. "I must admit, we took a risk bringing in actors. After all, this is local government and people aren't used to 'luvvies'. In fact, Aim was very professional, more like business consultants then actors. You couldn't really call them 'luvvies'; at all.

"We talked to them at great length about what we wanted," Ms Knight continued. "They went away and wrote a script. They performed two scenes for us at the conference showing a performance appraisal - one positive and one negative. The actors were totally convincing and everything they said was in the context of our organisation so people could relate to it.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I think it worked because it was so immediate. It gave everyone the chance to learn by watching. If you ask staff to do their own role plays they get embarrassed. We were very impressed."

Aim itself has also learned a few lessons. "Until I started doing this, I had a very low opinion of acting," Mr Harbour concluded. "Now I see that actors really do have skills that can help other people. We can make a difference."

Actors In Management can be contacted on 0171 689 7788.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?