Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Virtual Book Tour: Acting Techniques for Everyday Life

Readers, we're delighted you've joined our Virtual Book Tour today and a hearty welcome to author Jane Marla Robbins. We think that you'll be very interested in what this successful actress and performance coach has to say about her thought provoking book, Acting Techniques for Everyday Life: Look And Feel Self-Confident in Difficult Real Life Situations. So let's get started on some readers’ questions:

Nourishing Relationships: I am in a wonderful marriage, we don’t fight often, but when we do, I fall apart and I hate when that happens. Any tips?

Jane Marla Robbins: Actors often imagine personal images on the back wall of a theater. So, on the wall behind your husband, you might imagine some symbol of the love between you, some image of the good times you have shared. It could be the picture of Gustav Klimt’s famous lovers, if that makes you smile and trust in your love. Or it could be an image of you and your husband dancing when you just met and fell in love. Our bodies react to imaginary images, if we really see them, just as if their reality were actually there. Archetypal images are particularly powerful, and could help you to be grounded in the reality of your love instead of in a fear that your love will not survive the argument.

N R: My mother-in-law is sometimes so critical of me, I want to shrivel up and die. Are there any acting techniques I can use for being with her?

J M R: Let’s say your mother-in-law tells you you’re fat or stupid--or whatever insensitive label she manages to put on you. Try writing an Inner Monologue to say silently to yourself, as she’s criticizing you, or, worst case scenario, afterwards. It might include some of the following: “She isn’t really talking to me, she’s talking to herself. She hates herself. I’m okay. She’s mean. I should never expect love and support from her. If I want love and support, I have other people to whom I should go.”

You might write your Inner Monologue on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. You can always just put your hand in your pocket, feel the piece of paper, and remember your truth. Writing down words on a piece of paper, words that remind us of our strength, or the insanity of our attacker, helps a lot of people.

N R: When I go out for dinner with my boyfriend and his friends, every time I begin to speak, my boyfriend interrupts--even though he’s complained that I don’t speak up enough when we’re with his friends.

J M R:
Here’s the Acting Technique I suggest you use: Speak the Truth. Tom Hanks says the ability to tell the truth is essential for any good performance. A lot of people need to practice knowing what the truth is and how to speak it. And a lot of us need to learn when not to say it, if it will make a relationship worse. In this case, however, I would suggest that you Speak the Truth to your boyfriend, and tell him that it doesn’t help if he interrupts. After all, at least we know he wants you to speak up more! If you can’t speak this simple Truth to your boyfriend, maybe he’s not the right boyfriend. On the other hand, if you work up the courage to tell him, you may be surprised by his reaction. He might even stop interrupting. He might even apologize. (A good test.)

N R: My brother and his wife, who I luckily don’t see very often, are nevertheless quite nasty and mean to me when I do. Is there an Acting Technique you would recommend when I have to see them at our family functions?

J M R: The first time I consciously used an Acting Technique in my “real life” I was frankly amazed that it actually worked. I was having to spend time with a man who had just married into my family, and who apparently could not be in the same room with me without mocking me, belittling me, or somehow putting me down. The times I had to see him became unbearable.

Then one day I pretended he had leprosy. I just told myself, “He has leprosy.” I didn’t imagine boils on his face, or bones sticking out of his hands, I just said, “I’ll try it. I’ll pretend he has leprosy.” I was using a simple acting technique called the Magic As If. I merely acted As If he had leprosy. It worked.

For one thing, it helped me to avoid him. I was pretending he had some terrible disease I could actually catch, why would I have wanted to get near him? So for starters I never got close enough for him to start in. The odd thing about my adventure with leprosy is that the day after I tried it, the guy actually told his wife, “Jane seemed better yesterday, didn’t you think?” Did he feel compassion from me for his disease (his meanness)? Or was it that, because I avoided him, he was no longer threatened by my energy, and therefore didn’t feel the need to try and diminish it or me? The bottom line is it worked; the abuse was over.

Leprosy may not work for you. If it doesn’t, you could of course substitute another disease for the people who upset you and from whom you may want to keep your distance. You can still love them (always a good idea!)--just don’t get too close!

N R: I just started dating someone, but I can feel myself wanting to rush into a relationship and I’m afraid she’s going to bolt. Any advice?

J M R: Try an actor’s “Inner Monologue.” Here’s one you might keep in your pocket and /or repeat in your head: “I enjoy building this relationship slowly.” Or, “I deserve to really know this person before I jump in the sac or marry them.” Or you might keep the Perfect Prop in your pocket, maybe a pair of glasses, to remind you really to see the larger picture here, to remind yourself really to see the woman. Not easy after only two dates! Or you could bring along a doggy collar and leash in your pocket--to remind you to put on the brakes and slow down.

N R: I am newly married, I love my husband but I am not always comfortable with his family. I think they don’t like me, they’re not very nice to me.

J M R: Here’s what worked for one of my clients: when you’re with them, you might imagine seeing and smelling a bouquet of your favorite flower (or box of your favorite chocolates, or whatever makes you totally happy). Bottom line: you’ll be smiling. And no one will know why. More important, you will know why. This will give you an extra sense of power, so you won’t feel as uncomfortable or unhappy or like a victim with this “not very nice” family.

The bouquet (or its substitute) works not only because you will have tricked your body into believing your favorite flowers are in front of you, but also because you will have given a gift to yourself, a special gift, which, like any perfect present you might receive, can make you happy. Plus, you will have a secret. Secrets help us to feel powerful, because when we’re afraid, our body fears being robbed--of its self-confidence, joy and ultimately of its life. But when we have a secret, we know it cannot be stolen, because nobody knows that we have it in the first place.

The gift of the “bouquet” will also make you feel gifted and loved, just as you would feel if you were in fact given your favorite gift. And when you feel really loved, you cannot feel uncomfortable and afraid. Plus you will no longer be the passive victim, but consciously active, an actor in your own life.

N R:
I’m suddenly nervous with someone I’ve just started dating and want to be cool. Any tips?

J M R: Here’s a technique to help you be not only “cool,’ but also Your Most Authentic, Relaxed and Best Self. It’s called Sense Memory. When, and only when you suddenly feel nervous, and not all you want to be (funny, charming, relaxed, smart, whatever), you would sensorily transform the person with whom you’re nervous into someone with whom you’re very comfortable. So you might smell your best friend’s perfume, or hear his or her laugh. Look at the person who may be making you nervous, and compare his or her hair to your Best Friend’s--Is it darker, longer? Or you could see your best friend’s eyes, with their mischievous glint, replacing the eyes of the person who makes you uncomfortable. Your whole body will relax AS IF the person with whom you feel fabulous is actually there.

N R: I have to see my ex, a difficult man. We have business to do and need to be together. Any advice?

J M R: Try Playing a Character. Meryl Streep always works for me. In extremis, sometimes playing a lion is needed. Your “Actor’s Adjustment” will be your secret. When you shake your head, only you will know it’s a lion’s mane, or that your nails are claws, should you need them.

N R: My boyfriend and I get into fights. They’re not that bad, but particularly when he gets angry, I get very upset. Is there an acting technique to help me with this?

J M R: Try finding the Perfect Prop, and even hold onto it in your pocket during an argument. It could be a piece of paper with your Inner Monologue, maybe with the words, “We will resolve this, we always do. We love each other.” You might also remind yourself that anger will not kill you. That said, it is always deeply upsetting for me to be with someone who is angry.

Other props might work--maybe a locket in your pocket from your most loving grandmother. Just touching it in the face of insanity could remind you of the people who love and support you, to remind you that the world is ultimately a safe and loving place. When we feel safe and loved, arguments are actually easy.

N R: I have a meeting with my boss. I like him, but I’m actually a little intimidated by him. I know our meetings would go better if I weren’t so intimidated. Is there an acting technique that might be helpful?

J M R:
I’m suggesting you have an arsenal of Sensory Memories that make you feel strong and happy. Scientific experiments at Harvard show that using the right Sense Memory (which the medical establishment calls “guided sensory imagery”) can lower your blood pressure, as well as your pain and anxiety levels. In other words, if you use the right Sense Memory, you and your body actually get stronger. So, what makes you feel strong and courageous, instead of intimidated and afraid? An awesome waterfall? Then imagine one on the wall behind your interviewer. If you sensorially re-create one, your body will not know the difference between the real waterfall and the imaginary one. Our cells hold the reality of all our sensory memories, that’s how our bodies are wired.

The senses, as Pavlov proved, are a doorway to the unconscious. For example, if you were to imagine a lemon wedge in your hand, tried to smell it, feel it and taste the juice in your mouth, you would probably start salivating. If, on the other hand, you were simply to command yourself to salivate, which is an automatic, unconscious response, like discomfort or nervousness, it’s unlikely that you would.

So, don’t logically tell yourself not to be nervous for a meeting with someone that might make anybody nervous. But give yourself a pleasurable Sense Memory and see if you don’t start relaxing and even smiling. Use any or all of your senses. You might imagine you’re drinking champagne--but only if it makes you relaxed and open, not drunk and stupid. You’d imagine tasting it, smelling its sweetness, feeling the bubbles on your nose, feeling your body relax.

Or you could hear a piece of music that makes you feel strong. Samuel L. Jackson heard the theme from Star Wars in his head for his fight scene in Star Wars II. He says it galvanized him and made him feel powerful. Feeling “intimidated” is just feeling afraid; but when we feel strong, we’re so much less likely to be scared.

N R: There’s someone at work who just can’t help being mean to me. Is there an Acting Technique I could use to help me not want to cry?

J M R: One of my clients, whose brother is particularly hard for her to be with, sings the following lyrics to herself when she is with him, to the tune of “I Feel Pretty” from Westside Story: “I don’t like him, I don’t like him. He’s withholding and nasty and mean. I don’t like him, it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.” Scientific studies show that both words and music alter our brain’s chemistry--whether actually heard or imagined.

Thanks, Jane, for such insight and thorough responses. Now, readers, it's your turn to share your thoughts and ask Jane questions. Just click on 'comments' at the bottom of this post and follow the prompts. You can even sign in as 'anonymous' - it's as easy as that. And if you want to learn more about Jane and her work, spend some time on her website.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write about speaking the truth. But I find when I'm totally honest it backfires. help!!!!!!!

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm self conscious when I have to make a speech and my son's wedding is next month. I know to pretend that everyone in the audience is naked. Any other tricks? Judith

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My granddaughter is 8 and very shy. I want to help her as she doesn't have many friends and seems sad. I don't want to interfere but.......

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you tell me about why and how you made a transition from acting to coaching and writing. Grace

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've signed on for a weekend family reunion the end of July and my husband just moved out. I haven't seen a lot of the cousins for a while and I'm determined to go. Suggestions about what to say?!

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Anonymous # 1:

I'm wondering if you know your own truth. You don't sign your question with a name. I think it all begins with knowing who we are, that truth, and being proud of it. If telling the truth is really backfiring for you, I wonder what kind of truths you are telling. In my experience, people who share their feelings get to show their vulnerable side, and the people with whom they share their feelings are usually okay with it. Are you angry, are you yelling? This is so off putting. Some people find an angry voice abusive. Here's what works for me: I calm myself before I share anything. I find out how I feel, even find out what in my childhood has made me react so unhappily. Example: Have I been criticized? Then I remember: When my mother used to criticize me, I thought my life was in danger, because she would yell, and when I was young she was my source of SURVIVAL.

Before you "share" with someone, do you think if what you're sharing will hurt them, make them angry or afraid, or even criticized? If you think so, yes your remarks would probably "backfire." A useful script: "When you stepped on my toe, it really hurt." Not: "You careless a-hole, why are you so inconsiderate and insensitive?!?"

Jane Marla Robbins

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Judith--

Naked never worked for me, I've got too much curiosity about naked bodies, not to mention sexual fantasies. More sure fire techniques: imagine, sensorily, someone who you are really comfortable with in the audience and talk directly to that person. Since it's a family wedding, there might be someone in the audience you can trust and is easy to talk to. If it's your dog you can only be free and open with, then see his little ears and wagging tail out in the audience. But I intuit you really love your son, so you might just speak a lot of your speech to your son. Also, if you catch yourself getting nervous, in your head you might think, "I love you," or "Take a breath." Breathing relaxes us and puts oxygen in our brains.



11:11 AM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Grandmother:

Bless you for being a concerned grandmother! There are many acting techniques you might share with your granddaughter that she could use to feel more secure in the world. Foremost, would be for her to feel a loving, supportive and nonjudgmental relationship with you. By letting her know that anything she does is wonderful. When we feel safe and loved, we are able to relate to other people easily. You might even appreciate her shyness and sensitivity. You said she "doesn't have many friends." Sometimes just one is enough. Sometimes if we're pushed to put into our lives more then makes us comfortable, we become insecure.

For acting techniques, as you might have already guessed, I might recommend playing with your granddaughter instead of suggesting she needs to be "fixed," by using them. If she actually trusts one good friend, or you, or a pet, she could imagine them with her when she feels insecure. With her senses: see her dog, hear her mother's laugh, for example. You might tell her it's something you do, and share the technique as a clever trick that you have needed. So you don't make her feel inadequate. And the more you encourage her to speak her truth with you, without you judging or criticizing any of it, the more she will develop the ability to Speak her Truth -- which will allow her to attract the right kind of friends.

You are so lucky to have a grandchild you love, My recommendation is to worry less about her and celebrate how wonderful she is. A 16 year old friend of mine only had 2 friends when she was 8 and now, she tells me, has over a few dozen.


11:13 AM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Grace,

For a long time, acting was very important for me. The stage was a safe place for me to express feelings, which I really was not allowed to do at home. I was not seen, really seen where I grew up, either. But on a stage, my body and part of myself was seen.

After 30 years of acting and some impressive credits, I discovered other places where I could express my feelings, be real, feel seen and even be loved. I also realized my mother's great desire for me to be an actress and a star (even when I was in the womb she named me Jane Marla Robbins because she thought it would be a good name for an actress) was no longer important for me. My little girl self had thought being an actress was the only way to get her attention, approval and love, and therefore survive. My grown-up self realized I could get attention, approval and love from other places, without playing a role. And this felt good.

For a long time I had been saying, "When I get to heaven St. Peter isn't going to ask me why I wasn't more like Mother Teresa. If anything he would say why wasn't I more like Jane Marla Robbins." I finally understood the relevance of these words for myself. I no longer wanted to play, or rather be, anybody but myself. And by some divine accident I had already been coaching people to be themselves, their most authentic selves. We teach best what we most need to learn. And I realized I loved helping people more then I loved pretending to be someone else. So I just did more of it, and wrote a book about it.

As for my writing, I realize now I have always written, perhaps I was always a writer, and just wouldn't admit it to myself because my mother so desperately wanted me to be an actress. I love writing, though frankly I am always surprised, if not delighted, every time something I write out of passion gets published.

Good luck and much joy with your own transitions-- these are often difficult, often essential.


11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 54 and my youngest will leave for college in the fall. I've been a mom and homemaker for 22 years. You write about facing difficulties, where do I begin?

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who cry when angry or upset; can you suggest ways I can control my emotions so they come out in my WORDS and not down my cheeks?

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Reunion Attendee:

I would say whatever is true. "He left." Maybe, also: "and I don't want to talk about." Or if you want to talk about it, tell the truth again. That way you don't have to waste energy trying to remember what you did or didn't say.

If people don't understand why you don't want to talk about it, just say, "I don't want to talk about it." Maybe even add, "Excuse me,” and walk away.

Have fun at that reunion. It wasn't clear to me if you wanted your ex to move out or not, but if you're unhappy with his leaving, I have always believed that the best revenge is to "have a good time." (See the last chapter of my book on HAVING FUN)

Good luck, and enjoy that reunion.


12:13 PM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Mom-and-Homemaker:

So you are going to get out there! Good for you! I wasn't clear if you were looking for help with job interviews or social situations. Do you need to meet more people? I understand you need to fill your life in a new way.

When in doubt, have fun. This will attract people to you, whether it's an employer, a man, or a new friend. HAVING FUN is the title of the last chapter of my book, (which includes 41 Acting Techniques to help people to look and feel self-confident in "difficult" real-life situations). Yes, sometimes people need coaching to have fun, to enjoy their lives, to enjoy being who they are.

The 41 techniques include everything from Sense Memory (remember, with at least one of your senses, a person place, thing or event that has made you happy in the past) to Substitution (if you find yourself needing to communicate with a "difficult" person, substitute, sensorily, another person for that person. Substitute someone with whom you can be yourself, relaxed, smart and funny.)

All good actors trust their instincts. Trust yours to know what gives you Pleasure, and follow where the pleasure leads you.


1:10 PM  
Anonymous Jane Marla Robbins said...

Dear Anonymous,

When you think you're about to cry, not that I have anything against tears personally, I'm suggesting a recipe you keep in your pocket: This would be like an actors script to remind him of -- whatever he has to do, say or think.

Variations of the following have helped many of my clients:

1. "Stop. I'm about to cry. Maybe I want to show this person that I'm upset so they will stop upsetting me."

2. "I'm about to cry. Excuse me, I need time to process this." Then maybe you can leave the room to find out why this has upset me. Maybe someone pushed one of your buttons? So then ask: "Why am I afraid?" Maybe it's because of something that made you afraid when you were 2 years old.

3. "Breathe." This will calm your body and mind. When we're afraid, (probably the cause of your tears), we stop breathing. So there isn't enough oxygen going to our brains for us to know what is real and what is not; to know if what someone has said is genuinely abusive and mean, or if, for example, they have by mistake simply used the word "grey" and someone once threatened your life with a grey knife.

If you want to stay in the ring, the piece of paper in your pocket could remind you to use an acting technique. Here are 3 that have worked for many of my clients:

1. "I am a tree,(or a large rock), I am strong, this person cannot hurt me."

2. Sing a song in your head. If the person is mean and you absolutely have to be with him or her (though I personally recommend eliminating as many people in your life that are mean or abusive), I recommend singing this to the tune of "I Feel Pretty" from Westside story: "I don't like him (or her). I don't like him. He's withholding and nasty and mean. I don't like him. It's the saddest thing I have ever seen."

3. Or maybe there is simply a melody that simply makes you smile. Words and music can change our brain chemistry and how we feel.

You're emotional and sensitive. I hope you come to love your emotionality and sensitivity, and that you surround yourself with people that love and understand them as well. So they will be gentle with you and kind, and you won't have to endure the out of control crying.


3:24 PM  

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