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ACT for Acting with Dr Ben Askew
Episode 391st February 2024 • People Soup • People Soup
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Hi there and a very warm welcome to Season 5 Episode 39 of People Soup – it’s Ross McIntosh here. 

P Soupers - I'm continuing my chat with Dr Ben Askew - he's an acting teacher, writer and director. If you haven't listened to Part one - where we find out more about Ben and some pivotal moments in his life - I'd recommend you pause and go and have a listen.

In this episode you'll hear more about the ways Ben uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT in a theatrical environment - breaking it down into three parts - people, plays and process. We also chat about his paper - called "Towards or Not Towards: Using the Act Matrix as a psychological tool in the analysis and interpretation of dramatic texts and characters." How does Hamlet help us explore the human condition through the ACT lens?And...there's a cracking takeaway.

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.

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

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.


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

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Transcripts

PART 2

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[00:00:06] Ben: But it focuses on, a pretty well known speech that Hamlet has that starts with to be or not to be as the question that is being posed. what I'm doing there, is it's a really simple but I think powerful and effective process. Of as you're going through this soliloquy as Hamlet talks about what he's experiencing, the choices he's trying to make, is we use the matrix as a way of mapping out the different aspects of his experience and what he's talking about.

[:

[00:01:06] And again, again, we can just map those onto the matrix as we, as we go.

[:

[00:01:18] And if you haven't listened to part one yet, where we find out more about Ben and some pivotal moments in his life, you're missing a treat. I'd recommend you pause and go back and have a listen. in this episode you'll hear more about the ways Ben uses acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, in a theatrical environment.

[:

[00:01:53] How does Hamlet help us explore the human condition through the ACT lens? And, there's a cracking takeaway.[00:02:00]

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[00:02:30] Let's just scoot over to the news desk. And if you'd like to find out more about the Act in the Workplace Train the Trainer program I developed with Dr. 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, And I've trained hundreds of adults using this approach and also hundreds of trainers too. So I'm excited to share it with you. And thanks to Joe Oliver at Contextual Consulting, there's a code for the course that gives you a 20 percent discount on the Act in the Workplace Trainer Trainer program. And that code is PSOOP20. Also, I am delighted to have been invited to deliver a workshop by the Association for Business Psychology on the 6th of February. The title of my presentation is How Behavioral Science Can Support the Cultivation of Authentic Leadership. You'll find the link in the show notes, And if you're a member of the A BP, it's free. Finally, there's a review in from Claire Stafford on Facebook. Claire said, Love this one, Ross. Really appreciated how Ben shared his pivotal moments and the importance of reflecting on those to make sense of our own journeys.

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[00:03:57] And what we can all learn from that when our roles [00:04:00] demand a certain game face. Can't wait for parts two and three.

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[00:04:25] Watch this space, furthest he sent one of the previous bookmarks was Peru. Now, try if you can to contain your excitement, Because it's time to get a brew on, and have a listen to part 2 of my chat with Ben Askew.

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[00:04:53] Ben: hmm.

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[00:05:07] Ben: Yes,

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[00:05:13] Ben: certainly. Yeah. So yes, this is what I like to, is this, the, this, the Act for Acting project and it has a three ACT structure is how I like to describe it. Because what what I discovered or seemed to be the, the, thing as I delved into act was that it seemed to, seemed to have potential applications to so many different aspects.

[:

[00:05:49] So it's about, in a sense the most direct application of, of ACT principles to the actor as a human being, right, of going, of going, how are the principles and [00:06:00] skills of psychological flexibility, how are those relevant to what the actor is trying to do, how they're trying to develop themselves in their work.

[:

[00:06:29] how can the skills associated with psychological psychological flexibility, support them in doing that. And at the bigger picture side of that act, one people thing, if you look at it more at an organizational or institutional level, how could you sort of embed ways of working that would support the psychological flexibility of those that are involved in the company, in the rehearsal room, in training at this institution.

[:

[00:07:20] How do you bring that to bear on the way that we talk about and interpret and understand what goes on in plays and at the level of character, right? So how is it, as in, so the first bit's about the actor, the second bit is essentially about the character and, and action in drama of going, can we use these concepts to help us understand, characters and plays from a more contemporary perspective?

[:

[00:08:13] So we've got the three act structure is act one people, act two plays, act three process. and then the big idea, the big hope is that all three, inform and enrich one another. And that's one of the things that I found really exciting about for me and for the people that I've been able to work with in this way of going the more we, Explore some of these skills and exercises for ourselves as just as people.

[:

[00:09:11] That's going on in our selves, right? So the so that's something that I think is quite cool about it. That As we apply these principles to ourselves, we're also training ourselves to interpret character. And as we're, we're interpreting character, that's actually feeding back into our ways of understanding ourselves and our own behaviours. That's the, that's the principle anyway.

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[00:09:55] Ben: hmm.

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[00:10:00] Ben: Sure, yeah.

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[00:10:12] Ben: Well, you mentioned the, um, the paper, the article that's I did last year, that was about using the act matrix as a tool.

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[00:10:42] Ben: So that one is, it's about this thing, the ACT matrix, which I know you're very familiar with, and that's become really central to the way that I think about ACT. It's one of the tools that I use all the time. And what that paper is exploring is how you can take that tool, which we know we can use for ourselves, as a really useful way of thinking about and understanding.

[:

[00:11:32] But it focuses on, a pretty well known speech that Hamlet has that starts with to be or not to be as the question that is being posed. what I'm doing there, is it's a really simple but I think powerful and effective process. Of as you're going through this soliloquy as Hamlet talks about what he's experiencing, the choices he's trying to make, is we use the matrix as a way of [00:12:00] mapping out the different aspects of his experience and what he's talking about.

[:

[00:12:32] And again, again, we can just map those onto the matrix as we, as we go. And what emerges is he, is that he, he sets up this question. Right to be or not to be. Should I go on living or should I not go on living? And initially, if you're mapping that out on the matrix, we don't know from the starting point where those go, where those behaviors go, go in the matrix.

[:

[00:13:14] And so he is considering, maybe I just want to Stop doing that altogether, and maybe that's the best option for me now, is just to, as he says, take arms against the Sea of Troubles, and by opposing, end them, just bring this all to a stop. But as soon as that comes up for him, as soon as he considers that possibility, there's a rub, as Shakespeare describes it, of these dreams that might afflict him after death, this possibility that where he may go to, could be just even more suffering, even worse than where he finds himself now.

[:

[00:14:07] so what's, what I think is brilliant in using that tool and is really, exciting with a speech like that particularly. It's, I think it's exciting in both directions in the sense of going, when you map it out and you look at a kind of textbook discussion of what does it mean to be stuck, when we're talking about being stuck from an act point of view, and Hamlet is just, giving you a textbook on what stuckness is of being trapped between this, this cycle of experiential avoidance that doesn't work and that just leads you back into the place where you were Stuck, but now it's added even more, you know, yucky, difficult, feelings and experiences to it and trying again and going round and round and round and being unable at that point in the play, at least to find a clear enough connection to what his values really are to be the way out of this, this loop.

[:

[00:15:22] And it, and it emerges when you look at it in something like The Matrix as a really relatable, not simple in the sense of being easy by any means, but It's a very simple human process that is going on there, and you see it so clearly, I think, when you map it out on the, you know, one thing that's so brilliant about The Matrix is how sort of clear and it gives you a visual way of conceptualizing what's going on.

[:

[00:16:18] and that feels like it's something we can relate to. So that's what that that paper is about.

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[00:16:42] Ben: Mm hmm.

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[00:16:54] And my, part of my mind leaping ahead is thinking how could we use this as a way in for organizations to talk about characters like Hamlet or Lady Macbeth or Elsa from Frozen, to help people understand what's going on for them in an organizational context.

[:

[00:17:36] But I think it, it makes that connection very explicit. And in terms of me thinking about the kind of two-way street potentially of the, of, of the work I'm trying to do of going, I've started from a point of view where I'm absolutely going right, what can I, and we take from act to help with.

[:

[00:18:14] Contribute in the other direction, too, right? That active people that, as you say, are looking at wanting to, learn about psychological flexibility for real life settings that the exploration of character and stories and those narratives can be a really rich, exciting, compelling way of discovering what those processes are and learning to recognize them on why they are.

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[00:18:45] ross--he-him-_1_11-30-2023_110557: Those words of rich, exciting and compelling, I think I absolutely agree. I firmly believe that the arts have an enormous and fundamental and essential contribution to us as human beings understanding the, the human experience. And a lot of that human experience takes place in the workplace.

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[00:19:15] ross--he-him-_1_11-30-2023_110557: But to make it as compelling as this is For me it's genius and exciting and taps into my value of getting creative. But before I go off on that ramble, I wonder, how's it being received Ben? How's, how's it going down in, in the acting and the theatre community?

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[00:19:59] [00:20:00] I think because I started with this, with, this group On Zoom in Covid times. I'm not really doing with any expectation beyond to do it. and we got from those actors that I was working with, and they were contributing to that at that beginning point, a huge amount of positive of seeing how those act skills and principles that we were talking about and trying to explore together kind of go, Oh, that really, That really speaks to like a lot of the challenges that we, that we have as actors in our work and in our workplaces, and people being very, excited about that and very receptive to it.

[:

[00:21:33] I think where I'm at on one of the things I'm trying to sort of find the next steps the next towards towards moves to do. looking at the project as a as a whole, is that it, it, like it's become, like there's lots of really exciting fragments of how the project's developing in different, in different contexts and different bits of it have sort of touched different areas.

[:

[00:22:14] if that makes some, some sense. So it's about going, how do we bring this to fruition within the fabric of a course in terms of training. How, as I'm exploring with some of the actors I've been working with over a long period through the Working Action Group how can we, rather than just exploring this idea with this bit of text here and then another opportunity exploring this thing over here, really work something and bring it to fruition as some form of production as a finished piece of work where we think we're really trying to explore how these different aspects of the of the projects can inform.

[:

[00:23:25] I guess I am really excited and don't feel I've quite yet. Being able to put the whole thing together in a way to, to, to really see how that operates.

[:

[00:24:07] Ben: Absolutely. Yeah.

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[00:24:22] Ben: Well, I think what I'd love for people to take away from the chat we've been having is about The potential that is there in this relationship between something like act and the arts. And obviously for me, that's that's a lot to do with drama and theater. But I think the arts more broadly in terms of where the thinking about where those connections are and for the people that are listening to think maybe about what I guess to go back to a book or a play or a film that fascinates them, that has meant something to them and to think using maybe that axe lens. What about myself? What about? The way I live my life and what about the way I relate to the people around me. Can I take, can I learn about, can I think differently about and find a new perspective on perhaps through my relationship with that piece of art?

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[00:25:36] ross--he-him-_1_11-30-2023_110557: works for me and just a personal reflection, Ben. I find that when times are turbulent in my working life, I perhaps become more disconnected from the

[:

[00:26:04] Ben: Yeah, I, I, I completely Agree. And again, just thinking a lot of thinking allowed it maybe maybe takes us to a to a to an improved and enhanced, um, Takeaway perhaps of I think For most of us, many of us in our relationship to The arts. It can seem like a, a luxury item, you know, the way we treat it in our personal lives, the way we treat it as a society, that it's the first thing that can go, if we need to make space, then, then we, we cut down on the art, on the arts.

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[00:27:12] ross--he-him-_1_11-30-2023_110557: Amen. Thank you. Ben, as with our other conversations, I've truly loved this chat. I found it so thought provoking and insightful and exciting. So thanks so much for your time, for coming on the show and

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[00:27:27] Ben: Thank you.

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[00:27:54] So

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[00:27:59] Ross: Number one, [00:28:00] share it with one other person. Number two, subscribe and give us a five star review, whatever platform you're on.

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[00:28:35] Thanks to Andy Glenn for his spoon magic and Alex Engelberg for his vocals. Most of all, dear listener, thanks to you. Look after yourselves, peace supers, and bye for now.

[:

[00:28:51] on Prime or Netflix, I think. And it was a beautifully shot, it's a beautifully shot production.

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[00:29:02] ross--he-him-_1_11-30-2023_110557: Oh jeez, what's his name?

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[00:29:06] Ben: Oh, it's the Michael Fassbender one, yes, yes, yes, okay,

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[00:29:21] Ben: say, I've had a similar response, I think of going the, there's sort of, there's lots of nicely done, moody, atmospheric, uh, cinematography and these kind of things. Um,

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