As an actor, there are many different ways to hone your chops and work on refining your existing skill set beyond the usual scope of settings. One helpful and surprisingly interesting gig that I did a while ago was work as an actor in a mock trial, which put some of my previous background knowledge to use and gave me a handful of new ideas for my own future projects.
There were a few steps of preparation to help get me ready for the trial. About a week before my trial was scheduled, I received and read around 20 documents on the details of my character and her particular narrative. Then, the day before my trial, I met with the lawyers representing the woman I had been tasked to play. They went over how the general mode of questioning me on the stand would look and I helped develop the various elements made up my character’s daily life. The latter part let me insert a bit of creativity into the role, as I told the lawyers how I would get up in the morning, prepare breakfast, get “my kids” ready for the day and other biographical aspects that I made up on the fly to fill in the gaps in the provided documentation. This whole preparatory session was a great exercise in creating a clear and believable backstory for a given role.
When it came time to sit in the chair in front of my legal audience, I was taken aback by how challenging the situation was, even if it was entirely fake and with incredibly low stakes. When you’re on the stand and forced to respond to difficult questions in front of others, it’s pretty hard not to feel trapped. Luckily, this only enhanced the improvisational side of my acting, as it made me make coherent choices without too much forethought.
The great thing about the entire mock trial experience was that the lawyers were trying to practice and improve upon their professional skills, just as I was brushing up on some of my acting chops. The judge gave the lawyers a bunch of useful suggestions — stand near the jury when talking to your client so that the full group can directly see their face, stand away from the jury when questioning the other party, so the group has a harder time reading their facial expressions — all of which demonstrated to them how the audience of a jury can be communicated with or even slightly manipulated.
Acting in a mock trial was an excellent non-traditional way to work on my acting skills in a scenario worlds apart from the normal range of theatre, television or film venues. I gleaned a lot of valuable skills that I know will help me down the road as I develop my next character into a full personality.