Can theatre help us perform better at work?
People often ask me “why theatre?” What does “play acting” have to do with work and productivity? I believe work is a lot like the stage - a space where we put on masks and play out our roles. But unlike the stage, we aren’t always aware of what purpose these masks play and if and when they might be hindering our progress.
Why does this happen?
Our jobs inevitably make us build walls to protect our weak spots and show a strong front. While this may seem logical at the beginning, it eventually serves to distance us from one another, breeding mistrust and misunderstandings while amplifying fears and judgments. Before we know it, our colleagues become foes, the joy of the work gets seeped out and stress takes over.
Theatre can help us change how we adapt to and play out our roles at work, to be both happier and more productive. The free-flowing, playful, collaborative and imaginative world of theatre opens up new avenues for us to challenge ourselves, nurture our creativities and work together. Here are a few ways in which theatre can help us bring out the best in ourselves as well as within our teams.
Make your workspace alive with stronger interpersonal dynamics. Theatre uses a range of interactions, exchanges and team-work which throw people into scenarios where they need to work together. Teams members must learn more about each other’s skills, challenges, motivations, perspectives etc. to work together. Such exercises help break the ice and build stronger bonds.
We often hear without listening, especially at work where the mind can be preoccupied with several things at once. But without listening, a team is just a group of people working on their own agenda. Just like any other skill, listening can be learned and practiced with tools like attention, visualisation, patience, empathy and an open mind. All of these are skills that theatre proactively encourages and inculcates.
Let's build on each other's ideas rather than opting for contradictions, which are often seen as a mark of having an opinion. In theatre, we often work in pairs where the core idea is to support the partner, by making them look good, bringing out their strengths, and encouraging their learning and progress. Hence, we move from stepping onto toes to stepping into shoes and really begin to see from another’s perspective.
Techniques like improv and visualisation demand concentration, from both mind and body, to first imagine a role and then commit to it. This means discarding old and preconceived ideas of oneself, freeing the mind from extraneous thoughts so it becomes attuned to its new reality. This helps laser the concentration on the task at hand and become more present in the moment, techniques that come handy when the To Dos pile up or distractions cannot be avoided!
In theatre, your mind will play with new ideas, new perspectives and opinions, opening it up to different ways of thinking and being. Because on the stage, we don’t believe there are any bad ideas. To think differently, we must first let go of our old notions and this can only be done with a receptive, flexible, even playful mind that is willing to explore the unknown.
Not every situation requires rational and linear thinking. We all have an inner voice, a gut feeling, an instinct. When cultivated, this can help us express ourselves better, make quicker and better decisions, and often avoid pitfalls. Theatre reaches out to this voice by opening up new avenues for self expression, from movement and gestures to words, music, mime and much more.
Up your thinking game by going beyond the comfortable patterns your mind is used to. Theatre offers us unique challenges to assess and respond to different situations in a make-believe setup where just about anything goes. So there literally is no limit to your creativity. Let your grey cells lose into a plethora of possibilities and nurture the all too important skill of non linear thinking.
In theatre, we make funny faces, strike weird poses, make loud noises, and even talk to imaginary people or dance to music no one can hear. There are no limits to where your imagination can take you. And as you ride on your creative instinct, you will feel a sense of abandonment, especially of the self, coaxing you to shed inhibitions, break away from stereotypes and really come into your own with confidence and panache.
In all of these ways, theatre helps enhance self awareness and also heightens our awareness and understanding of others. So individuals can perform better, enjoy work, reap satisfaction, connect with one other and build stronger, more productive, more creative teams.
When work becomes "play" we all become players and there is no better place to bring out the best in us. As Shakespeare said "All the world's a stage. And all the men and women merely players." So why not make the most of our part?