Help! I’m writing some training material and want to use actors. Any advice?

Hi Suze … I am currently developing some business video training where I would like to use actors. What advice could you give me on what to prepare for them to use? And what stories of using actors for business video can you share?

Angela from Manchester, England.

HTWB-Agony-generalHi Angela

One thing I would recommend (speaking from my experience of writing scripts for actors in training/corporate video and business theatre) is that you write them a good script.

Not even Lord Olivier could have made a bad script work. Either hire a pro writer to do it for you or if you want to DIY and need a little guidance, stand by as I will be sharing some thoughts on script writing here on HTWB in the coming weeks.

Using improvised dialogue

Another alternative is to make it clear when you’re casting for actors that they should be good at and willing to do improvised dialogue. This is especially useful for roleplay work and often they really enjoy themselves getting into the characters you want them to be.

Provided you explain things carefully to them and you agree everything with them beforehand, you can get them to roleplay with your trainees. Some writers and directors cringe at the thought of mixing pro actors with corporate staffers, but I’ve done it many times and it has always worked for me.

Where to find actors

If you are having difficulty tracking down actors that won’t cost you a hefty daily rate, it might be worth your while having a chat with one of the better drama schools in your area. In the UK, at least, there are some ordinary secondary schools (high schools) that have some quality actors even still in their teens. Depending on the nature and timeframe of your training it might be seen as a useful project for, say, final year students and I doubt you’d be expected to pay anything like top Equity rates for that.

Another source of low-cost actors is amateur dramatic groups. Is their one in your neighbourhood? They might love the opportunity to take on a new challenge and a financial contribution to their group will always be very welcome.

When using actors can go hilariously wrong

And “stories of using actors?” How long have you got?

Perhaps it’s the Nescafé sales conference I wrote and produced when a famous British actor, star of their TV commercials at the time and a horrendous practical joker, came on stage and presented the Marketing Director with a “This is Your Life” red book? The MkD, already petrified with stage fright, ran off and locked himself in the men’s room. It took my stage manager 20 minutes to persuade him to come out.

The actor then had to entertain the audience for those 20 minutes – it’s lucky he  was good at improvised dialogue.

Probably the best one, though, was a very well-known presenter of a British TV programme called Crimewatch, who chaired another conference for us and did the classic trick…went to gents for quite a long session having forgotten to turn off his radio mike transmitter. All of us in the crew were utterly helpless….

And on that lavatorial note…

…let me wish you all the best with your actors! Let us know how it goes and come back here with any further questions you may have.


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