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Meet Dr Ben Askew
Episode 3825th January 2024 • People Soup • People Soup
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Hi there and a very warm welcome to Season 5 Episode 38 of People Soup – it’s Ross McIntosh here. 

We're back - it's 2024 and what a guest we have to start the year. Let me introduce you to Dr Ben Askew - he's an acting teacher, writer and director. He is the originator of the #ACTforActing project and is one of the UK's leading exponents of Theatre Analysis and the Laban-Malmgren System of Movement Psychology.

You'll hear about how he got into acting, when he first discovered ACT and how he realised it's potential - not only for actor wellbeing but also for character development. I loved this conversation and this is the first of three episodes with Ben. In the second episode we'll focus on the use of ACT in his work and in the third - we have a spontaneous chat about Macbeth - partcularly Lady Macbeth and we look at her behaviour and relationship with her husband through the ACT lens - how cool is that.

People Soup is an award winning podcast where we share evidence based behavioural science, in a way that’s practical, accessible and fun. We're all about Unlocking Workplace Potential with expert perspectives from Contextual Behavioural Science.

Another first for Season 5 is that I'm adding a transcript, wherever possible. There is a caveat - this transcript is largely generated by Artificial Intelligence, I have corrected many errors but I won't have captured them all! You can also find the shownotes by clicking on notes, keep scrolling for all the useful links.

I'm honoured to have the opportunity to speak at the Association for Business Psychology on 6 February from 6-7pm. My presentation is entitled - How behavioural science can support the cultivation of authentic leadership. If you're curious about Contextual Behavioural Science and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy then please do join me - it's free for members of the ABP and you can find all the details here.


You can find all the details of my ACT in the Workplace Train the Trainer Program over on our partner's website, Contextual Consulting.

The discount code for 20% off the Program is PSOUP20

Read about our Chisi Awards from #365daysofcompassion for Best Podcast

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Transcripts

#1 BEN ASKEW

[:

[00:00:06] Ben: where do I fit in this?

[:

[00:00:30] psychology and where that fitted within what we do as as actors and in drama schools came to fruition and that became the the thing that I felt that I could Develop and focus on that would allow me to make a small but hopefully meaningful contribution within these big questions

[:

[00:01:05] He's the originator of the Act for Acting Project and is one of the UK's leading exponents of theater analysis and the Lain Malmgren System of Movement psychology.

[:

[00:02:13] Our mission is to unlock workplace potential with expert perspectives from contextual behavioral science. Let's just scoot over to the news desk If you'd like to find out more about the Act in the Workplace, Train the Trainer program I developed with Paul Flaxman in partnership with Contextual Consulting, you'll find the link in the show notes. It's coming up soon, in April and May this year. I've trained hundreds of adults using this approach, and also hundreds of trainers, too.

[:

[00:03:10] Now it feels like quite a fruitful year. because there are other collaborations in the pipeline. But for now, get a brew on And have a listen to part one of my chat with the wonderful Ben Askew. Dr. Ben Askew, welcome to PeopleSoup.

[:

[00:03:34] Ross: Hi, now Ben you'll be familiar I've got a research department and they've done a bit of digging on you I just wanted to read out what they've come up with.

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[00:03:44] Ross: They're not always 100 percent accurate so just keep your ears

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[00:03:49] Ben: Okay, alright.

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[00:04:12] Ben: It's a tricky one.

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[00:04:24] recently directing a number of rehearsal projects for the Manchester School of Theatre and delivering specialist act matrix training for staff and students at the Oxford School of Drama. He also works as a freelance acting coach and runs regular classes and workshops through the Working Action Group. Trained as an actor, his professional experience includes work in the West End and for companies including Shakespeare's Globe and the Manchester Royal Exchange, along with roles for television and radio. His dramatic writing has been produced at various venues around the UK, and his academic research has been published in peer reviewed journals, most recently an article on acting and mentalisation published in Stanislavski Studies. He received his doctorate from Central St. Martins in 2017 a thesis exploring psychophysical approaches to verse and heightened text and he continues to conduct research in this area.

[:

[00:05:25] doing?

[:

[00:05:42] Uh, but no, this is, this is all true. I deny, deny nothing.

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[00:05:52] Ben: This is true, yes, this is my new, role I've just started in the last, um, few weeks, um, working at the Leeds Conservatoire, the drama school there, which is [00:06:00] a fantastic place to be, yeah.

[:

[00:06:07] that be right?

[:

[00:06:27] And, um, they've recently reconfigured this as the Leeds Conservatoire and brought in, um, the drama school elements, the actor training there. so it's a, yeah, it's a really, really exciting place to be getting involved with and being a part of.

[:

[00:06:59] that.

[:

[00:07:16] because I hadn't, I hadn't really watched any of them Since I was a kid, and obviously there's all the new films that have come out more recently that I'd never seen. and some of them are really, some of them are absolutely brilliant, really fantastic. And, um, it kind of shifts me in my gears from, uh, from a lot of my, my time and attention.

[:

[00:08:02] And so doing things like finding some time to watch a Disney film and getting to know those that this happened whilst we were all locked in. And so I was kind of bringing this newly emerging for me, act perspective on things. And it was just naturally. happening, that I was looking at these characters, looking at Elsa in Frozen, um, looking at what's going on in Encanto and these movies, and just going, oh, goodness, that you can really see these processes that I'm learning about and being fascinated by, in terms of psychological flexibility, and particularly, it's opposite, you know, the inflexible processes and how people are getting Stuck.

[:

[00:09:07] it's a hobby.

[:

[00:09:29] Ben: Yeah.

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[00:09:35] Disney films.

[:

[00:09:39] Ross: Let me bring it back. I've, I've had a go at introducing parts of you and your role, but I wonder if you could just expand on that for us. Just talk a bit more about. What's got you to where you are now in your career, and maybe some of the pivotal moments along the way.

[:

[00:10:41] So those, so those were in themselves just going there. and making that choice was a, a pivotal moment, I guess. Um, and then I worked as an actor primarily for a number of, for a number of years, and was very fortunate then to, to. Get out there and work, because it's notoriously not the easiest, um, profession to, to make workable for you, for, for someone.

[:

[00:11:24] So I was there, doing that and you know, enjoying that and getting a lot out of it. But it, uh, I suppose the next big pivotal moment in a sense was having been a few years into my career started to have this sense that there was something that wasn't quite um, working for me.

[:

[00:11:43] Ben: Those there was bits. of something that I wasn't quite touching on in the work that I was, that I was doing. And I remember I went for a big, long walk on the beach with my, with my partner. And we had a big, um, sort of chat about [00:12:00] it. And I think there were a couple of things that were coming up for me at that point.

[:

[00:12:27] way of organizing how I'm living, working for all areas of my life, you know, of, of how I want to live and my relationships and, and things. And I think the other side of it was I'd sort of got to a point where whilst I was really enjoying a lot of the work that I was doing, where I felt there were parts of myself that weren't quite being challenged, engaged in a way that I, that I Wanted them to be, and also where I, I think I got to a point where I was reflecting on my own work as an actor mainly.

[:

[00:13:39] so that led to them, then they're walking back along the beach, to the strange decision, uh, perhaps. That I thought alongside doing the work that I'm doing, I'm going to do a PhD and, exercise sort of a part of of my mind and my engagement with theatre and what, what it is that interests me and what I think is [00:14:00] important about it in a different way.

[:

[00:14:30] And so I started teaching back at the school where I trained a drama center And that opened up this avenue of my of my practice that has become a central part of it part of what I want to bring to Theater and to acting is what I can maybe offer through the training of people through opening People up to certain ideas and certain ways of working in a way that I feel can be you know important and and hopefully make a difference to them and to this art form in some small but significant way.

[:

[00:15:28] That's, that's, that's what am I gonna do with this? Or, or, or am I doing something with it? Am I doing something else? What's going on? Um, but bigger than, than that really was, first of all, I became a father, um, for the fir for the first time. So that changes a lot of stuff. And then not too long after that, we had this thing called COVID that came along. and I know as everyone was sort of working out what that meant for life and what life looked like and how things were [00:16:00] going to be. And alongside all of that, this school drama center where I was, where I trained and had sort of made my base for my teaching practice was facing the fact that it was going to close, which is a whole, Shakespeare in plot in itself, in terms, in terms of the, the various factors that were feeding into to that and part of that broader picture, of drama schools that with Covid going on, with everything that was happening with the, the big discussions happening in society and the world about, about.

[:

[00:16:59] In, in lots of different ways. Firstly, I think big questions about, are drama schools you know, inclusive, are they taking care of people, are they fit for purpose for the 21st century in terms of the attitudes to what theatre is, the attitudes to the way you train actors, how you take care of people whilst you're training them to do something that can be very physically and emotionally and psychologically challenging and demanding.

[:

[00:18:00] Does it have a place? Is it important? Are drama schools as they've been conceived? in any way fit for what we do now. And so with that combination of kind of personal circumstances for me and these, these kind of big conversations that seem to be going on of thinking,

[:

[00:18:20] Ben: where do I fit in this?

[:

[00:18:44] psychology and where that fitted within what we do as as actors and in drama schools came to fruition and that became the the thing that I felt that I could Develop and focus on that would allow me to make a small but hopefully meaningful contribution within these big questions About how the the sector moves forward

[:

[00:19:17] What was it about ACT when you discovered it that really captured your attention?

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[00:19:22] Ben: well It was interesting. so my interest in psychology and acting is kind of long is very long standing partly because It's probably what attracted me to acting as an, as an actor, this, idea of getting inside and into the inner workings in a sense of, of characters and what's going on with them.

[:

[00:20:02] and the, methods and approaches that I'd been trained in and was teaching had a big psychological. components to the, to the, particularly the, you referenced it in the Laban Malmgren system, which was a big part of the, the training I had at Drama Center. We tend to call it character analysis, which is a much easier thing to say than the Laban Malmgren system.

[:

[00:20:57] related to that system. And again, it's about understanding the psychology of character and what people want and why they do what they do. but whether it's Jung or whether it's the ideas in Stanislavski of kind of noticing a lot of these ideas, they're great, they're fascinating, they're based in ideas about human beings and psychology and how we work, that are from quite a long time ago and that sometimes become problematic, I think, in terms of the, some of the, the, their assumptions about human beings, and also just maybe feel, feel a bit out of step with where we are in the 21st century and how we think about ourselves and how we think about.

[:

[00:21:52] an act appeared on the horizon, and there were a few things that immediately leapt out about it. For one [00:22:00] thing, Act for acting just works a hell of a lot better than, you know, CBT for acting. As in, Act just a lot catchier. Um, so, so, you know, there was a, there was probably, there was a little bit of an instant appeal there of going, Oh, I hope Act's interesting because it's a good name for a model to go with acting.

[:

[00:22:18] Ben: but, there were a couple of things that, that I remember when I was first hearing about it that popped out. One of which was about, values. and how they, the, the way that they work is these kind of compass points, these directions of travel. And, and that immediately had this kind of dual interest for me, first of all, in terms of our values, our artistic values as actors, as theater, theater makers, and, and the usefulness of that way of, articulating what we're about that is there within act and values, but also it made me think about, okay, how can we. identify values as they relate to character, to helping us to understand character. Because the usual thing within The Stanislavski model and the various approaches attached to it is essentially more about goals, right? It's about, we think it talks about its objectives, right? What do I, what do I want?

[:

[00:23:56] So that was one bit. Values was one of the first things and I just kind of [00:24:00] started making a few little connections for myself. And the other was just the whole concept of psychological flexibility, which, you know, is a good place to start. And, and the, Russ Harris way of glossing that particularly of this, the ability to open up, be present, and do what matters.

[:

[00:25:11] And one of the big parts of these conversations about drama schools, um, that I think is, is really important was about On the one hand, it's really important to challenge people and move people out of their comfort zones. And on the other hand, is that being done in a way that is, that is safe and that is responsible in terms of the way people are being pushed and challenged in their acting work, how they're being expected to sort of take their imaginations or take themselves to places that are challenging, how they're being expected to stand up in front of people.

[:

[00:26:13] it built from there. Really?

[:

[00:26:22] in part two, but hats off to you for bringing it to a whole new workplace.

[:

[00:27:00] It seems so clear to me that these things go together. And I think the other thing that, that, that's kind of cemented it from, well, a couple of things you should say, we'll, we'll come on to, to the. hopefully exciting, interesting things about acting and an act as we go forward. But the other thing for me, I think in that, so in that scenario, I was describing of covid's going on with wherever we're all that uncertainty feeling like, I wasn't quite sure what my next moves.

[:

[00:27:48] What can I do? And I think being introduced to the idea of psychological flexibility is what encouraged me to do anything, to do something.[00:28:00] In the sense of I think I was there going, okay, I've got all these big grand ideas about, you know, if someone would just give me X million pounds and my, you know, in a building and the space to it, I could do, you know, we could do something incredible, right?

[:

[00:28:30] and feeling very stuck of what to do. And in the end going, okay, well what I could do is I could set up a Gmail account. I could be very brave and set up a Twitter account, as it was at the time, because that wasn't a thing that I, that I did. And I could put out a tweet that goes, I'm interested in looking at this thing.

[:

[00:29:10] I've got all these kind of, like, big goals and ambitions, and that's fine, but what can I do that, that is workable for me in this moment that moves me towards what I think is important? That allows me to take a little step towards, I think it's really important that we, that we try and move this forward, that we try and, Open up a space where people can explore themselves as people and as artists and as actors in a way that is that is that is, um, moving things forward and and opening it up for people and Actually, there was something that I could do There was something that I could do which was just that i've set up an email account set up You know make a little offer and and and put a zoom session in the calendar and you go.

[:

[00:30:01] Ross: Lovely. And it's those small steps that, that, can lead to somewhere where we don't know, but we're moving towards our, our values. So Ben, I'm curious. You know the pivotal moment of the beach walk.

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[00:30:17] Ross: At that point had you discovered ACT?

[:

[00:30:39] So, we'd had discussions, over, over a long time about acting and psychology, and particularly, you know, That's about how I would, you know, how I would think about characters, and how that compared to the way that she would, um, formulates the things with clients and this kind of thing.

[:

[00:31:32] And of course, because of COVID. All of her training moved on line, right? So one of the ways that Covid again sort of contributed to this was part of how I started to find out properly about ACT was that she was doing lots of, act training sessions online and I would start to just appear over her shoulder, over her shoulder and sort of listen it, listen in to these, um, to these things and then chat with her about it and ask questions.

[:

[00:32:16] And then it just happened, um, that she was particularly looking at Act and chatting to me about Act whilst I was engaging in, in that sort of search. and as we were just talking about, there were just a couple of things about it that really clicked. And I went, okay, I'm going to have a proper look at this.

[:

[00:32:48] Ross: It's so interesting hearing about, let's call it the beach, because that's the, that's what it will be called when they make a film of your, life your work. And that scene, it just really resonates with me because I was interviewed about my work, acting the workplace by my podcast producer, Emma.

[:

[00:33:31] But I think looking back, it makes me think, oh yeah, that was pretty aligned with what matters to me. And just, it just resonated with me that you, you weren't as immersed in act in that scene on the beach.

[:

[00:34:07] But yeah, absolutely. Looking back, I think you could see, you know, you could put what was going on for me and what was being talked about. In that conversation, map it out on the matrix or, you know, name the different hexaflex processes that are going on. And you could see that maybe it was about, some of my values that felt like they were being neglected slightly by, by What was going on in my life at that time, or that I wasn't quite finding the ways of balancing them or finding a new set of committed actions that felt like they could keep on working for what was important to me.

[:

[00:35:09] Which is probably a thing for me even still, still now, is that, that sort of, you know, that desire or that expectation that I have, that I've had needing to have the whole thing thing solved, to know what the next step towards the this massive big picture idea is. so that's been a big thing for me with ACT on a personal level, is that process of going, that's great having your, you know, these, great big ideas, but what can you do?

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[00:35:37] Ross: Mm.

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[00:35:47] Ross: Lovely. And being a curious type, Ben, I just want to ask a couple, well, one's a question, one's more of a reflection. But question is, is taking you way back [00:36:00] to Ben, to Ben at school.

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[00:36:10] Ben: okay. Actually, Talk of pivotal moments, I could give you, we could do another pivotal moment on that one. Which I don't know, it's, I, I, my memory of it is very clear. But, I'm not sure how much it's a sort of fabrication after the, after the fact. Certainly in terms of how pivotal it was.

[:

[00:37:01] And so that interest had developed. But anyway, I think getting to that, there's the, when you get to those sort of moments of decision about what am I going to do? you know when you get to I went to a sixth form college and you're doing all of that process And what's the next step? And I think there's a lot of people Do, it felt like there was a big fork in the road there because I was always relatively academic in terms terms of, I, I was quite good with the, with that stuff and had a lot of interest in, some academic subjects.

[:

[00:38:05] And. Not being sure and having as again, I think a lot of people that are considering acting and drama school have some discussions with Parents and things about about you know, their views of what they thought was there was a better was a better choice and all of that and strangely the moment that I really remember As I was going, as I was having all these debates with myself, was in an A level philosophy class.

[:

[00:39:22] but what I'd sort of made sense of in my attempts to make any sense of, of Nietzsche at that point in my life and what I was seeing in that page. Was this idea that the real deal of all of that, the real deal of philosophy, the real deal of sort of asking what is life about is to answer it through art, is to kind of go the, that's the test you're running away if you go and hide yourself in academia, the kind of the, the, the sort of real thing to do is to try and. Ask these questions through a kind of embodied art form, [00:40:00] which is, which I, which I always go back and it sounds, maybe just sounds absolutely, uh, ridiculous as a, as a process, but that's the thing that brought the two things together, I think for me, and it is a pivotal moment because the two things are still very much together for me, and that's a big part of my practice and everything that I, that, I have wanted to do with it is to go that then they're not two different For me, what acting and theatre is about is really, it's an attempt at a, at an embodied, experienced interpretation of what it means to be a human being and what life is and what it's all about and different perspectives on that and how we cope with what life is. But rather than just talking about it and theorising about it, that you try and put yourself in it.

[:

[00:41:18] And that, and that for me, in a way is the whole point of this art form of, acting and the theater is that, is that we take these things that are very difficult to get hold of and you make them stand up in front of you and do a little dance and you feel them and experience them in a different way.

[:

[00:42:06] more challenging thing which was to to get myself able to train in the practicalities and to pursue that and to to do that side of it, and to actually stand up there and do it, rather than just hiding in, uh, in books.

[:

[00:42:41] But, uh, but, but, again, it was one of those moments, one of those little moments of choice. Which, uh, which again, as I say, I'm sure I'm, romanticizing the, the, the moment. And actually, it was one moment in a whole sort of series of weeks and months of kind of turning these different thoughts over in In one's mind, but that, that's, that's how I remember it.

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[00:43:01] Ross: I love it. I love, it's so evocative to think of you in the, the mobile classroom looking at a, a pretty battered copy and, and just looking at those words. So I think if you ever want to use this portion of the recording as part of a, a pitch. For this film that seems to be emerging my anyway. Just give me the word.

[:

[00:43:43] Maybe that's, maybe that's the film.

[:

[00:43:58] work. [00:44:00]

[:

[00:44:12] I was speaking to a chap who's using ACT in hospitality, and his area of specialism was high end hospitality. And he talked about how when people go on shift and they emerge from that, magical room from behind reception.

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[00:44:39] And then I start to think about other roles in the workplace where people a certain degree of emotional labor involved. I the one that always springs to my mind is flight attendants.

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[00:44:53] Ross: welcoming people on board and people with, ridiculous requests or complaints or thinking that they own the airline

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[00:45:01] Ross: who irritate me immensely as someone observing this and I think how do they just keep that facade? But I think that's something we'll come on to in the second part. I'm taking us off on another tangent there, Ben. sorry, I'm going to continue a little bit, but is that also the role of leadership

[:

[00:45:28] I think there's a definite conversation to be had

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[00:45:32] Ben: Mm hmm.

[:

[00:45:40] choice. So imagine imagine Ben, that for the next few weeks, possibly a two or three months, you have a song that announces your arrival in a room, whether it's in your home or whether you're going to the supermarket.

[:

[00:46:01] Ben: Well, I think Hmm. Okay. I think actually, I'll take us right back to the beginning of the con conversation at at this point, uh, because the thing that comes to mind, which is, um, interesting that that's what's the, what's there is, um, let's go back to frozen and do let it do, let it, let's do, let it go, uh, as the, as the thing which is, uh.

[:

[00:46:53] And also, I, and I think, um, another important point about that may, may be again of these, these conflicts that we experience. between, you know, work and family values and how those are, are balanced and things. And there's something about, um, that kind of dual pur dual purpose or that, that moment of connection through, through, taking some time to watch Frozen, um, and how that wasser that was serving lots of values.

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[00:47:47] Ross: Beautiful. Thanks, Ben.

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[00:48:09] you enjoyed this episode of the podcast, we'd love you to do three things.

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[00:48:21] Number three, share the heck out of it on the socials. This would all help us reach more people and make some noise with stuff that could be useful. We'd love to hear from you and you can get in touch at peoplesoup. pod at gmail. com. On X, formerly known as Twitter, we are at peoplesouppod. on the gram, known as insta, We are at People. Soup and on Facebook we are at PeopleSoupPod. You can also drop us a review or get in touch using a voice note on WhatsApp.

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[00:48:58] and the Laban Malmgren, and the Laban Malmgren, Malmgren,

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