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Book Review: Acting Techniques for Everyday Life by Jane Marla Robbins

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All of us implement a massive number of social scripts in our daily lives. The complexity of these scripts make them difficult to define. For those who have trouble coping with social interaction, they are indecipherable. The inability to absorb the accepted social scripts needed for a person’s environment may leave one anxious and dreading of unstructured action and communication. In the book Acting Techniques for Everyday Life, Jane Marla Robbins suggests that using acting techniques in a variety of social situations will provide relief.

Some readers may be concerned that using acting techniques in the “real” world will result in a less than authentic presentation of the self. Robbins asserts the opposite; that the application of acting techniques to common social difficulties allows one to bring structure and relaxation into each situation and that this ultimately allows one to become a more full participant in the social experience.

In my work as a voice-specialized speech-language pathologist, I find myself using a lot of the preparatory exercises Robbins suggested on a regular basis. Those who are unfamiliar with basic postural elements and/or who struggle with physical tension in the face of a social outing or public presentation will find these exercises useful for creating a productive body environment in which to apply the more internal strategies that are presented later in the book.

The chapters are short and easy to digest, each focusing on one specific technique. Robbins frequently integrates stories from her clients and workshop participants to help the reader understand the way in which each technique might be applied. To this end, she presents a wide variety of personalities, from an Episcopal priest to a socially awkward dentist.

One potential weakness of this book is that the many techniques presented can all be distilled down to some form of imagery or mental projection. In my experience, some people are better at accessing mental imagery than others. Those who have difficulty picturing imagined things may find themselves frustrated with the process.

To counter this, however, Robbins did provide good instruction in how to use all of the five senses to create a multi-layered sense memory to trigger useful reflexive behaviors in a naturalistic way. This turned out to be useful in my practice the day after I finished the book.

Given the intimate neurologic connection between the voice and the fight or flight mechanism in the brain, performance anxiety can cause voice dysfunction. One of my patients experiences voice strain and pain when giving presentations at work. With my performance background, I instinctively began working with her on visualizing a favorite relaxing place to bring to mind before presentations. Having just finished this book, however, I was certain to incorporate some of Robbins’ instructions to create a multi-sensory experience for the patient — with excellent results in terms of her ability to connect with the image and release tension in our simulation activities.

Acting Techniques for Everyday Life may be somewhat basic for people who already have a variety of relaxation response and sense memory techniques to draw upon, but those who are new to these concepts will find the book to be a pleasant, informative and accessible read.

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