THE BLOG
05/06/2013 11:28 am ET | Updated Jul 06, 2013

Performance Is Not Just for Ballerinas, Divas and Leading Men

For decades, I've taught at the fancy places: Stanford, USC, Carnegie Mellon, Yale and, currently, Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. I teach a fancy discipline: acting. Now, I'm taking acting lessons out of the university environment and into the heart of the city.

The first stop of our caravan will be San Francisco. For one intense week in June, joined by other fancy faculty from other fancy institutions (Juilliard, Alvin Ailey, and in one case the world of Heavyweight Boxing champions), I am inviting anyone who wants to improve or enhance their level of engagements -- CEOs, those striving to climb that corporate ladder, those trying to make a difference in their homes, communities or classrooms -- to come and spend a week with some of the best trainers of performers.

We are opening the door to all professions, but of course, there's always an open window for performers to climb through. (No self-respecting performer would ever make a conventional entrance anyway.)

What I come to offer to the "real world" would seem to be peripheral, and frankly ridiculous. Well, it is ridiculous. Students in acting conservatories across the country pay an exorbitant amount of money to gain armor for a profession that takes no note of their armor. It's a rough profession that taunts, "So what? Punk." I guess that's meant to see what you are made of. Sometimes students of performance pay not a lot less than those going to law school, or business school for that matter. Yet they often leave with no sense of business whatsoever.

They say that education as we know it will be a fossil five years from now. And yet the freshmen who enter the cloistered world of acting conservatory training next year have no lower hopes than those of twenty years ago. They leave Higher Ed, heavy with debt, and with absolutely no promise of a job or a career whatsoever. And this is what I propose to bring into the public square?

Well -- the truth is -- what is learned inside of the cloistered environment of a conservatory actually has extraordinary applicability to everyday life. Trained performers are at once tough and soft at the same time, foolish and wise in the same breath.

Most of us think that acting is the domain for twenty-somethings brave enough to take that one in a million shot at having a career in the theater, film or TV. I am interested in taking the techniques that I have personally honed as a performer and as a teacher and sharing them with others who want to do what actors do best: connect, communicate, influence, inspire!

This can be applied for one's personal advancement. That's true. But more importantly, the acting classroom, a human laboratory, of sorts, is rich with skills that help any of us in any environment make a better place for those around us, whether that's in the cubicle farms, around the dining room table, in the classroom, or even in society at large. Dare I say that the world could use a little of that?

We who study and teach acting are students of human behavior. Playwrights suggest how we are, how we might be, and often how we hope not to be. Embodying the dreams and nightmares of writers from all over the world and from throughout history, we study and embody the limits of humanness. Through exercises developed by years of studying how people are in real life, we learn how to act for the stage or the camera.

We also learn how to act in life. And we have had to get even better at this over the past decade and a half because reality TV has shown us that everybody is a star. The lessons we know could save your job and it could help you save someone else's job.

The key to performance is not only what comes out of your mouth; the key to performance is listening. To develop a voice, one must develop an ear. To develop a vision you must learn how to watch.

The world we live in celebrates disruptive ideas, disruptive technologies, disruptive policies, and game changers. What does this mean for the rest of us? It means we must react to disruption; we must become increasingly adaptable. Throughout human history, adaptability has been the key to survival. To survive, we must be able to change.

And what is acting? It is changing identities while one works from a strong central core. That strong central core is what allows an actor in the practical world, the business world -- a sometimes cold business world -- to survive with dignity. That core is resilience. Identities shift as required, but the core stays strong. As I once wrote: "As an actor, my identity is for rent. Not for sale, for rent."

In a world where almost no one is guaranteed a career or a job for a lifetime, actors, the chronically unemployed even have survival strategies, and a world view that could be of great practical use.

I save the fundamental skill until last. It's almost hard to say it, but I will. The fundamental skill of an actor is that which allows him or her to empathize. I know: too saccharine, too preachy. But hold on. Don't wince.

Empathy is intel. Empathy is 411. And it is 911. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's the stuff that can help you get close to someone, or conversely, it's the stuff that warns you to move away from someone who is about to harm you.

Check out our website at www.annadeaveresmithprojects.net.