Theory made practice

Impromptu theater helps managers find their 'intelligent emotion.'

smiles 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
smiles 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'But how can I fire him when he only needs two more years to receive his pension?" asks a desperate-looking woman on stage. In charge of human resources for a large company, she has just been informed that it is her job to fire this poor man. "That's not my problem," answers her boss firmly. "Find a way. We have to downsize." In the next scene, the older man who is supposed to lose his job is celebrating his granddaughter's birth with family and company colleagues. The head of human resources accidentally replaces the letter firing him with the NIS 1,000 gift from the company. A terrible scene ensues and everyone storms angrily off the stage. Just as the audience, more than 300 business managers and executives, are shifting uncomfortably in their seats, Arie Sheleff appears. "Does anyone here want to volunteer any suggestions about how they would do it differently?" he asks, bringing a long arm up to cover one eye and scan the crowd. A young brunette raises her hand and is subsequently pulled onto the stage to act out her suggestion: to attend the party on Friday and fire the man on Sunday morning. The seminar, part of a workshop that Sheleff designed, was created to help employees improve their corporate communications through acting. A business consultant since 1985, about seven years ago he decided to teach professionals how to balance their emotions with business by introducing them to the theater. "People in the business world are taught how to accomplish goals and put together documents and presentations. They know how to manage their time and reach goals, but they are often confused about how to handle emotional conflicts," he says. "This is where the theater comes in, and where acting can be such a good way to understand and work through emotion." After many years of creating workshops for companies designed to improve communication, management and leadership skills, Sheleff realized that although his clients always found the workshops entertaining and informative, they weren't actually helping to implement change. "I'd go back to a company for a follow-up visit after six months and they'd say, 'Oh it was great, do another one' but in the meantime, nothing was different," he says. "They understood the principles and would get perfect scores on any written tests you give them, but in reality they weren't able to implement what they had learned." To improve the methodology, Sheleff put together a research and development team that eventually found the underlying problem: To make a change, people need to experience it emotionally. And this connection to emotion, it turns out, is problematic in the rational, pragmatic business world. The solution? Putting people in a situation that will allow them to access their own emotions, act them out and then remember them for realistic situations that arise later. "I knew I could use the theater and acting to reach people on an intimate level, to teach them how to tap into their emotions," says the redheaded Sheleff, his bright blue eyes lighting up as he talks about his passion for the theater. "The only problem was that I didn't know how to act. I had done workshops at Columbia as a young student, and I always loved the theater, but I had never properly studied it as a profession." Thus, he enrolled at Tel Aviv University and completed a three-year degree in theater. "The improvisational skills required by the theater mirror those in the business world," he explains. "To be a good listener, you have to look your partner in the eyes and use your body movements and emotional intuition. The theater is a great tool for reaching the tools we all have inside of us and learning how to implement them." Sheleff offers a variety of innovative business consulting options that blend business and theater - from small weekend retreats in which company employees become the actors of the scripts he writes to large corporate seminars designed for a troupe of professional actors. He also coaches individuals who want to learn how to better reach their career goals. Although each project differs slightly in its goals or problems, he says that the bottom line is to use the theater and acting to tap into what he terms "intelligent emotion." Learning how to deal with emotional conflicts at work means being able to better motivate employees. It leads to better communication and understanding and helps improve self-confidence. Theatrical tools allow one to view situations from a different perspective through a connection with the mind, the body, feelings and language. "It's important to remember that you as an individual are responsible for how someone reacts to a question you ask or a statement you make," he says. "If they don't understand you, as the leader of a company or a manager, it's your responsibility to make sure that they do and acting can teach people how to speak and listen differently." Sheleff adds that many people lead split lives, separating their emotions from their intellect at work, but the issue is far from black and white. "The moment you can use your emotion, your heart and your soul to see the pulse of life, you can find different solutions that will bring you more success in your career." For more information,