10 Litig. 8 (1983-1984)
Stanislavsky in the Courtroom

handle is hein.journals/laba10 and id is 206 raw text is: Stanislavsky in the Courtroom
by Janeen Kerper

It is a clich6 among trial lawyers that good trial work is good
theatre. Many of the best performers in the courtroom do,
in fact, have training and experience in acting. Courses
designed to teach advocacy skills often include a session or
two with a professional actor who works with the student
on such problems as body language and diction.
Most lawyers' interest in the dramatic arts is purely
cosmetic: How can I appear to control the courtroom; how
can I conceal my stage fright; how can I cure this nasal
twang? Unfortunately, this concern for appearances has
caused us to overlook the more profound ways in which the
study of dramatic theory can enhance our powers of persua-
sion. In particular, we stand to benefit from a deeper
understanding of the specific techniques used by actors in
developing empathy for their characters. Great trial lawyers
apply these techniques unconsciously and intuitively, trained
actors do so consciously and systematically. Those of us who
were not born great trial lawyers have much to learn from
the latter.
Particularly useful in the courtroom are the techniques of
the so-called method school of acting. The method was
originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
by Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian actor, director, drama
teacher, and writer. Stanislavsky devoted sixty years of his
professional life to eliminating the artificial, declamatory style
of acting that was in vogue at the turn of the century, and
replacing it with an acting style based on concepts of psychic
technique, logical sequencing of actions and emotions, and
scenic truth. His thought and teaching changed the course
of modern drama. His influence was and is great, and it per-
sists to this day. There is hardly an actor around who has
not, at some time or another, been trained in the method.
So it is that we stand in front of juries and face a host of
preconceptions shaped by Perry Mason and Joyce Daven-
port, not realizing that Perry and Joyce are themselves shaped
by the teachings of Stanislavsky. Their style, expression,
movement, and thoughts depend on the method. If, as trial
lawyers, we unwittingly depart from the style dictated by the
The author is a trial lawyer, a professor of law, and the director of the
trial advocacy program at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

method, we run the risk of being perceived as insincere,
overly dramatic - or worse yet - flat and uninteresting.
Stanislavsky was fascinated by the inner world and its rela-
tionship to human behavior. Among numerous other
disciplines, he studied psychology and neurophysiology.
From his studies he developed a particularized concept of
the role of the imagination and what he termed emotional
memory in the development of a believable character. In
modern acting classes, these techniques are sometimes re-
ferred to as imaging.
Imaging can be best defined as the systematic exercise of
the imagination to recreate an event in its fullest sensual and
emotional detail. It is critical to the success of the exercise
that nothing be imagined vaguely. Rather, the imagination
must be used to invoke all possible concrete and consecutive
details in their logical and proper sequence. All of the senses
must be called upon.
Thus an actor who plays the role of a person on a bus is
expected to be able in his mind's eye to see the bus and the
passing scenery, to hear the street noises and the gears grind-
ing, to feel the vibrations of the roadway and the sticky plastic
seats, to smell the diesel exhaust leaking into the passenger
area, and to taste the aftertaste of the gin and tonic downed
hastily just before the bus was boarded. Moreover, the
method dictates that the actor understand what he is doing
on the bus, the precise order of his actions, why he is there,
and what he is thinking and feeling at the time. The
understanding of a character's thoughts and motivations are
developed by searching out analogous thoughts and emo-
tions in one's own experience. The actor in turn conditions
this emotional memory to respond to a particular stimulus
on stage at the moment he needs it.
Actors use the technique of imaging to bring to life a
predefined role. Lawyers have the opportunity to use the
technique far more creatively, for in trial work the lawyer
is not only an actor, but also a director and author who writes
much of the script. The technique has applications in every
phase of trial work. Imaging can be useful in developing case
theories. It is helpful in voir dire. It is indispensable in open-
ing and closing arguments and in the intelligent formulation
of direct and cross examinations.
8

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