As a Claremont McKenna College student majoring in economics, the last class I imagined myself taking in college was basic acting. Nevertheless, I tried it my first year and it easily became one of my favorite, most impactful classes. Acting taught me how to communicate effectively with others and how to build a personal presence in a space, and, most importantly, presenteed the most original form of humanity to me.
I was in professor Thomas Leabhart’s (hereafter referred to as Tom) acting class three years ago. In his class, we practiced pronunciation of English and voice projection, we studied various acting techniques, we rehearsed skits and plays. By the end of the semester, I acquired a better English accent (Tom insisted on recording English speeches for me and let me listen over and over again), studied acting techniques that train one to be a more effective communicator, and learned a number of life-lessons from Tom, which I will never forget.
The first one is energy. He speaks about the energy flowing out of your spine; he asks us to envision our magnetic fields as enclosing us like a bubble. The magnetic field, as Tom elaborates, is a presence that draws the attention of others. A quality that becomes an aura you carry with you. It is an actor quality that you put up on stage, but is also useful in life. To take the example of Tom, he always has a presence as strong as a magnetic field wherever he goes; he is the ‘God’ in the studio.
Second, the ability to tell a good story. Tom is an amazing storyteller. He whispers to make the audience listen more attentively; he grasps firmly to the natural logic line of his stories so the audience does not get lost; he speaks and pauses, and then speaks, which creates suspension, expectation, and all the wonderful things in drama that draw the attention of others. From the statue of offering grapefruit to God in the Louvre to Balinese dance, Tom’s stories are intriguing, interesting and makes a long-lasting impression on people.
The skill of telling a good story can make a large impact in the professional world. As I have done at least seventy interviews for jobs and internships and also worked at the Career Service center at CMC to help others prepare for interviews, I found the ability to tell a good story is crucial in behavioral interviews. The behavioral interview is a good chance for the interviewee to present his/her story to the interviewer. It requires a significant amount of time to prepare the substance of one’s speech, but the way a candidate presents their story also matters a lot. When I was preparing for the behavioral interviews, I often thought back to the monologue techniques I studied in acting. To some extent, reading a monologue is similar to answering conventional interview questions. The answer to a question is already in your mind even before the interviewer finishes the sentence, so the process in fact becomes a test of story-telling ability. However, a common problem is that people tend to speak from memory so it sounds well-rehearsed but does not come across as genuine. Studying monologue techniques could help alleviate this problem significantly.
The third thing I learned from acting—also the most important one—is seeing the universality of humanity. Actors, in my understanding, all possess beautiful souls that are as pure as a child’s spirit. They observe very complicated human behaviors, understand them with their hearts, and translate them into something that has universal meaning—just as Tom and his colleagues did in France. The task of theater is daunting; the process is onerous—but actors choose to do this for us.
Caroline Lu CM ’16 is an economics major. She lived in China for many, many years and London briefly for one year while she was studying abroad at the London School of Economics