Guest Rachel Bailit is not an attorney, she’s an actor. So why is she a guest on a show about lawyers and legal issues? As an experienced acting teacher – in addition to an accomplished actor in movies, television, and live stage – Bailit specializes in teaching acting skills to public speakers, politicians, and attorneys.
Telling your story in court is acting. It’s important to use your story, your voice, and your body in concert to create a relationship with your “audience,” whether that’s a jury or a judge. It’s about effective communication.
Law school may prepare you for reading, interpreting, and writing the law. But what about performing? Authenticity and confidence create your courtroom presence. Get beyond explaining your case in legal terms to making your audience “feel” your story.
Learn about “getting off book,” taking your eyes off the printed page and looking into the eyes of the jury or judge. It takes practice. Rehearsal is not just for stage and screen! Understand how to recognize and replace old habits and crutches – be aware of your every word, gesture, and movement. Just like the practice of law, the art of acting requires study and effort. But you might even enjoy it.
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Workers’ Comp Matters, the podcast dedicated to the laws, the landmark cases, and the people that make up the diverse world of workers’ compensation. Here are your hosts, Jud and Alan Pierce.
Judson Pierce: Hello and welcome to another edition of Workers’ Comp Matters. My name is Jud Pierce. I’m an attorney at the Law Firm of Pierce, Pierce & Napolitano in Salem, Massachusetts. And today we are bringing you a special edition of the show. We are not featuring as a guest on the show, an attorney, but we are featuring a professional actor. Yes. A lot of people say that acting and the law share some similarities, and it’s something that I’ve espoused in my life, being a semi amateur actor, someone who’s waiting for that big break but passing the time during the days either at my desk or in the courtroom, I’ve seen actors who have become lawyers. I’ve seen actors who are also judges. There has to be some sort of brotherly or sisterly love between the two professions.
And today we are blessed to have someone who knows quite well what it is I’m trying to talk about. Her name is Rachel Bailit, and she is a professional actor, she is a teacher, and she is very familiar with teaching all those lawyers and people who like the law and even other people in other professions about acting and what it can mean to their lives. Rachel, thanks for joining us today.
Rachel Bailit: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Judson Pierce: Give us a little bit of background about who you are, the training that you have espoused.
Rachel Bailit: Absolutely. Well, I am Boston born, and I studied journalism in school and decided that it would be a lot more fun to be an actress so I headed out to La La Land and I began my training decades ago along the way. And the journey is really almost mythical, where it takes you, all those places you go. I was mentored to be an acting teacher at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. I was first a student here and then mentored by Lee’s son, David Lee Strasberg, and it was really a natural fit.
I have been teaching acting since 2012 here, perhaps even a little bit earlier, assisting teachers. And I teach a very special technique, also known as method acting. And I’ve taken that work way outside of the classroom as far as I can go to test it out and to my happiness, I’ve found that it is a way of communication, not just on set and on stage. It’s a way that human beings can relate to each other so I’ve had the great joy of teaching in museums and teaching in animation studios and also teaching elected officials.
A lot of my emphasis has been on candidates and elected officials since 2016 and I’ve had incredible experience training lawyers. I began that work about six or seven years ago with an organization called Trial by Human.
Judson Pierce: Yeah. Interesting that you talk about that and it’s also on your website. I’ll start with my class that I took with you just not too long ago. I found it fascinating, the idea of exercising your voice, exercising your body before any sort of performance is really one of the keys to making your story hit the sky. And that’s what you want, right? You’re telling a story as an attorney. You’re telling a story, certainly as an actor, and you want to hit the audience on a level that they can actually grasp it and not zone out and get tired with, right?
Rachel Bailit: A 100%. I mean, for me, it’s heart to heart communication so when you talk about the body, that’s where our preparation begins. Like an athlete or a musician, there’s a warm up and so why not have a warm up for speakers? And so, what you experienced and did so well, I must say, in my class —
Judson Pierce: Okay, the checks coming.
Rachel Bailit: Great.
Judson Pierce: Thank you very much.
Rachel Bailit: — Is to begin to open up the body and change habits. So, wow, imagine that. I’m going to change my anatomy. I’m going to change the way I think and feel about my body and tension. And so, to restructure oneself, in order to be able to communicate, we really need to get into some authenticity. And so, the training that you went through, what we call in the chair, has been taught since the turn of the century, first with Stanislavski in the Moscow Art Theatre, and then here in the United States by Lee Strasberg. And the work is very systematic.
It’s something you can do at home. We start it really slow in the chair going through the body and identifying tension and then releasing it. And in its place, the gift is new energy and so everything that might feel dead end by life or by society telling you how to look, how to move, we remove all of that so a new habit can come in, which is one of freedom, authenticity, and once we can remove that, the body is free to express, which takes away that awful tightening that one can get in front of an audience.
That awful — you know those butterflies and tensing up, and the face gets tight and the mask is on, and we want to take all that away so we can really see you. And so, the people that you’re talking to can relate to you. But if you’re bound up by nerves, there’s no way they can get through and you can come out.
Judson Pierce: Yeah, absolutely. I was in a course just this past weekend about audition techniques, and the goal there was trying to free yourself up so not to get so tight during the audition process. That the director, you’re hoping will cast you, sees the real you, right? It doesn’t see like the stressed out you. And because that could be an attempt — you can’t really take on the role for your client without being open to, well, new ideas and new feelings and what not. In other words, it’s about knowing yourself better, right?
Rachel Bailit: It absolutely is. I always say I introduce people to themselves and we don’t know many parts of ourselves, and we haven’t had the luxury to even do that because we live in such a fast technological world. So part of the work we do is also training the concentration as you do the relaxation, so that you can really focus no matter how many people you’re in front of. But what you said about opening up to your clients and really seeing them means you have to get your stuff out of the way. And that kind of openness is something you can train. All of this is trainable. That’s what’s exciting for anyone listening, that these skills you can learn in a rather short amount of time if you put your attention to it. But it’s about finding your humanity and seeing other people’s and taking in theirs and finding a common language in a very divisive world.
Judson Pierce: Absolutely. Why don’t we just take this moment to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors, and we’ll be right back.
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And we’re back with our special guest, Rachel Bailit. Rachel, again, thank you so much for the course this summer. I really encourage all the listeners out there, all of my colleagues in the law to look into this because in law school where we’re taught how to read a lot and how to write in a different and particular style and actors are also taught a technique. Having a technique is as important for lawyers as it is for actors.
You mentioned method acting as a technique in that it stems from Russia about 100 years ago or so. Tell us a little bit more about the history of method and what it can provide all of us lawyers today.
Rachel Bailit: Sure thing. So our method is based upon a man named Konstantin Stanislavski’s system. It was called a system at the turn of the century, and so all-American acting is inspired by this technique. And Stanislavski had a company called the Moscow Art Theatre, and they came to New York in the 20s.
And at that time post-war, everyone was happy and joyful, and the theater didn’t have as much substance. They were big, broad musicals and there was no training, really. There was diction and movement, but still no, really, no actor training. And so, they took the theatrical world by surprise in their naturalism, in their ensemble work, which created ensemble theater as we know it today. And in their technique, everyone had a sense of authenticity and honesty and creativity.
And so Lee Strasberg was able to see them, and so he got together with a man named Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, and they created the Group Theatre. Now, one thing I left off is that two people stayed behind from the Moscow Art Theatre, Richard Boleslawski, a famous actor director, and Maria Ouspenskaya and they created a school. And so Lee Strasberg went there as well as Stella Adler, who’s another big acting teacher. And so that was the first of its kind of Stanislavski’s training here in the U.S. So Lee Strasberg was inspired. Like I said, he joined up with these two people and created what was called the Group Theatre, the most famous theater company in America. And they, believe it or not, formed during the depression.
Judson Pierce: Wow.
Rachel Bailit: And their idea was to create theater that talked to the people that talk to the times of their lives, and those were pretty awful times. There wasn’t enough money. People were hungry, and they wanted their place to look like America at that time. And in order to do that, they needed a technique that could embody that naturalism. And so Lee Strasberg, they took 27 actors, and he trained those actors. And within that group were legendary teachers like Robert Lewis, Sanford Meisner, and Stella Adler, and famous actors.
And so, they were around for 10 years. Lee left in that time, he took over the Actors Studio, and then he went on to open up the two institutes. We have one in LA and one in New York. So that is an abbreviated version, but in that generation, we got the early method actors Montgomery Clift, John Garfield, and then we got the Marlon Brando’s Marilyn Monroe, James Dean generation, and then the next generation, Alpa Chino, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro.
So it came in waves, and that’s also when film came out in television. And so the whole world was affected by this technique, which came from authenticity and naturalism. People don’t even realize that. It just progressed like with history. This acting technique which began around the world. It’s pretty incredible. They were all immigrants, the people who started the Group Theatre. Not all of them, but a lot of them. And so it’s a beautiful story how you can talk something into existence, you can dream something into existence, and so now the acting we’re doing in America is all based on the system, based on the method, everything we do today. And I believe that that’s filled into communication, the way we talk to one another also is less formal, is more connected, more emotionally truthful.
Judson Pierce: Yeah, I mean, certainly people who are watching TV or watching a movie can tell if they’re watching something that has some believable acting in it. They relate to it in a way that maybe some other actors or plays or movies don’t hit the same mark because it’s I don’t know if I want to call it manufactured or performative, but the authentic is really something that binds. If that’s the way that we’ve been viewing entertainment, how can we import that into our professional lives as counselors? I would say started like this, perhaps with Tequila Mockingbird it and Atticus Finch saying, “You have to stand in that other person’s shoes” is what I’m thinking this is all about, right?
Rachel Bailit: Yes.
Judson Pierce: Taking a client as you find them and stand in her shoes, right? And then you’re going to be able to present your story in the most effective way.
Rachel Bailit: A 100%, and to be able to have the words to relate your client’s story. And that involves the second piece of our work, which is sensory. Sensed memory. So all of our memories coming through our senses first and so we use a sensorial language that helps people to feel and identify within the story.
So using the five senses, we train with imaginary objects to actually experience so in our language, the commonplace language would be visualization. Let’s say, “Okay, I’m going to see it, I’m going to see the beach, I’m going to smell the flower the person picked up.” We can walk through sensorily. But what we do in our work is to really go with personal memory, we call it personalization and to connect in with that person’s experience. First you could do it as the lawyer, how do I understand this? When have I ever experienced something like this and find that common language and even share that with your client?
And then when you’re telling your client’s story, there are ways to pull in a judge or jury. And I don’t mean that in a manipulative way. Not pull in, but share an experience. We call it experiencing. There’s a way to take someone on that experience with you through the senses, taking someone like it’s happening in the moment like it did to that person. And so, I find that the lawyer needs to go there, not just tell the story like a third person, but really experience it themselves. And there’s something very universal about being specific. The more specific you are, the more you will take me on your journey with you, and so using that sensorial language combined with the relaxed instrument is really the recipe for powerful communication.
Judson Pierce: We don’t present just on the papers ordinarily and I’m speaking for lawyers in other states, too, I’m sure they have this experience. We’re before judges’ real people, hopefully not over computers, but in person. And for us to convey something differently than just on our papers is vital, right? I mean, we can submit briefs and close written closing arguments, but to speak and to ask questions of your experts or even ask questions of your lay witnesses, if you get emotional feeling it, then you can probably be sure that the others who are listening to you might be feeling that same thing too. Which is what you want, right?
Rachel Bailit: I agree. For you to feel it first and understand that that judge and those people are human beings too. That’s what we share, that human experience and most likely they will have experienced what you’re talking about if you dare to be brave and bold and go there. Also, another thing tool to practice is improvisation. So you don’t have to stick to your script, that you can be inspired with what’s actually taking place right in front of you and what we call working off the other person and acting.
Judson Pierce: And that is where I want to give sort of that big market podcast tease and take another short break for a moment from our sponsors. And we’ll talk about a couple of tips for the trade with our special guest today, Rachel Bailit when we’re right back.
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Judson Pierce: And we’re back with our special guest today, Rachel Bailit. Rachel, we were talking before the break about just a couple of tips that we can take with us into the courtroom. And one of the things that I remembered from your class this summer was getting off book as soon as you can, because once you get your eyes out of your page, whether it’s your yellow legal notepad with questions and you can make eye contact, then something special happens. Could you tell us a little bit more about getting off book and for the lawyer?
Rachel Bailit: Absolutely, yes. I feel very strongly about that. There’s no way to be 100% in the moment and connecting if your face is in a page. So it is a skill that you can practice holding a page and learning how to go back and forth. So I like to think of it that you already know what you’re going to say, but you’re just going down to get that confirmation. But it’s a fluid line of thought, so obviously memorizing is best. I know sometimes there is not time for that and so that improvisational skill will really help you.
It will help you to, first of all, have confidence and faith that you will be able to do that, but it’ll also help you to practice this. And so before you go in to improvise with yourself in the car to talk about what you want to say, to not judge yourself like there’s right and wrong and if you go off course, you’ll find your way back if your heart is in it and you know what you want. So in acting, we talk about our wants, our needs, our intention. If that’s really clear, and that’s connected to heart and connected to your client’s heart and your purpose, then you can go anywhere as long as you know what’s important.
Judson Pierce: Would you say that partly we have to break old habits that might be tells or crutches or do we not want to do that to ourselves? Because those are learned behaviors over years and years and years. And it would be almost impossible to tell ourselves or force ourselves not to do those things. But we have to be mindful of them, right? So it’s not to distract and not prevent ourselves from getting the story out. I’m thinking about pacing back and forth or doing a certain gesture with your hands. How do you control those tells?
Rachel Bailit: Okay, so that’s in the relaxation and that’s really if you can work with a coach one on one or in a small class like we had that. I will be able to see those things, especially in person. I will be able to look at that and ask, what’s there? If someone has too much energy congested in one area, then they’re going to tap their foot, right? And we want to take that up and express that. And so I think once you’re sure of yourself, you don’t need to pace. You can plant yourself comfortably, and that also means relaxed legs. And I do feel like that could be distracting, and it’s never too late to change a habit.
It requires a lot of focus and intention, but it does become psychological as to why you’re doing these things and how they’re serving you. And so I see that a lot with actors. I see people that blink their eyes. I see people that move their face, and so over time, with attention to that, you can release that energy in that area. And we want to take that and put it into the word itself.
Judson Pierce: Yeah, that’s the essence. We’re communicating with our words and we don’t want to take away from that with any movements that might be distracting.
Rachel Bailit: But you do want the body to be alive. There’s no doubt. That’s why we energize. I mean, the body moves when we express so it’s a fine line between what’s habit and what’s creative expression. In acting, we always say, what are you creating? So I think the thing to work on is what’s your intention and how is that coming through the body? So some consultants might tell you how to hold your hands, but I believe the hand is an outlet for what’s happening inside. And it’s powerful what you do with the hand, but it’s connected to something inside. It’s not because you’re tense and you don’t know what to do with them. It’s part of the message.
Judson Pierce: Yeah. Take this, for example. I’ve been told in acting training that to close off the arms across your chest like this, something that I see lawyers do a lot. I do it. It’s closing yourself off in stage. We want to keep our hands by our sides. Is that something that you would instruct lawyers to watch out for as well?
Rachel Bailit: I would.
Judson Pierce: Just don’t close yourself off.
Rachel Bailit: The hands can be anywhere. But a closed off body is one that’s crossed or legs are crossed, and to stay open when you change your position if anyone wants to try this right now, listening in your chair to something that would be really comfortable if you’re watching TV or opening up the body. The body is at ease, the spirit is at ease, the mind is at ease, and authenticity can come through. And when you’re rigid like that, it’s very hard.
Judson Pierce: What is your favorite lawyer movie? Not to put you on the spot or anything, but I know that law has been talked about in plays dating back to the earliest plays western civilization, Shakespeare the Bard meets Black’s Law. You probably seen some lawyer TV or film or maybe you’ve even acted in some well.
Rachel Bailit: I don’t have a shining example of a perfect lawyer, but I have been watching Your Honor with Bryan Cranston, and that’s rather horrifying.
He is an incredible lawyer at the beginning of the movie, and he’s really involved and invested in his cases. And then his son gets involved in a crime, which doesn’t mean to do. And you can see how he is on a downhill slope so that’s an interesting character. He’s a judge, actually. You know, he’s a judge. That doesn’t count. That doesn’t count.
Judson Pierce: I thought for sure you would have said The Verdict with Paul Newman.
Rachel Bailit: Oh, The Verdict is excellent. The Verdict is excellent.
Judson Pierce: I mean just from us being from Boston, right?
Rachel Bailit: Yes, and he’s a method actor.
Judson Pierce: Exactly. He was in the class. He was in the class early on with like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
Rachel Bailit: Yes. He was with all the greats. You’re right that’s an excellent movie. I think it’s interesting to see shows like Your Honor, which is about a judge, but to see someone who’s not perfect. And I always tell my students, when you’re playing a lawyer, that doesn’t mean you have to do a cliche performance. Lawyers have complicated lives, right? Lawyers can be very eccentric, and so you could get stuck in a trap if you’re playing a doctor or a lawyer and what that looks like so that’s all the more reason right, Judson, why we have to have training to be authentic so we’re not a cardboard cutout of a lawyer. Bring your personality in.
Judson Pierce: Absolutely.
Rachel Bailit: Bring it in. It’s welcome. I mean, I would imagine that it would be refreshing for a judge to have someone that has a sense of humor and that can warm up the script, as I like to say it. Warm up your speech. You have to take those words and lift them off the page and bring them to life so everything becomes 3D.
Judson Pierce: Yes. This is such an important part of our humanity and something that we probably enjoyed throughout our lives in terms of just watching for entertainment, good actors, and not realizing how much of it fits into our own lives and how much more effective we could be as advocates for our clients if we just implement a few of your techniques.
Rachel Bailit: See isn’t that the most important thing?
Judson Pierce: Right.
Rachel Bailit: To be more effective for your client. I mean, that’s where it has to come from. I want to serve them better. And in my work with lawyers, we practice that. We practice doing (00:27:44), we practice doing jury selection, we practice doing interviews with clients. We practice a lot of aspects of law. And when I train politicians, it’s the same thing. I don’t just train them to give stump speeches. I train them to do door to door canvassing, to talk to constituents on the phone. There are so many aspects of what we do, and so once you get the skill, you’ll imbue everything you do with it, and I think you’ll enjoy your work more. When you get to show up, you get to be a part of it, not an idea of what you think people want.
Judson Pierce: People say that the law is a lot of practice, right? That’s why we’re called practicing attorneys. And the same is true for actors, right? It’s all about practice to get to freedom. To get to just being more of yourself and praying, as you said, all of the stuff that’s been weighing you down that’s been put on you or that you’ve claimed yourself from life and getting away from that for a second and just getting to the real you. That’s going to just – Oh, it gives me chills because it’s really that kind of a course for me this summer. And where can people find you, Rachel to talk with you or hear more about this? Where can people contact you and find you?
Rachel Bailit: Okay, so I have a website, it is rachelbailit R-A-C-H-E-L B-A-I-L-I-T. com, and you can reach me there. And I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram and all those fun places. And I love to have conversations with people, and I’m happy if anyone has any follow up questions. And I do teach east and west coast so, Judson we met through Boston casting. I teach virtual classes. They’re small, and I have non actors in those classes. And I also teach at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute as well. And I do do private coaching so if that’s if you want private coaching, you feel more comfortable doing that, I’m open to that. I have taught lawyers and groups. I don’t have anything scheduled at the moment, but there’s always a potential for that.
Judson Pierce: I can recommend group training because it is about losing your inhibitions in a way, and feeling comfortable doing these exercises in front of others that loosens you up. I certainly felt very strange doing some of these vocal exercises and movement exercises, but I got to know my fellow classmates after a little while, and then we all sort of forgot that we were looking at one another. We weren’t looking at each other. That’s my point. We stopped being self-conscious, and we could really focus on what you were trying to tell us in terms of movement. It was great to get over that hump.
Rachel Bailit: I’m so glad. Yeah, we call that public solitude, and it’s very important to be able to concentrate like that and to be aware of other people, but you’re concentrating on what you’re doing and those sounds you mentioned for anyone listening, we train impulse to expression so while we open up the body, any impulses you have, we want you to either put them into a sound or speak them out because so often in life, we push that impulse down and don’t express it, and it might be one that’s really worthwhile for you to say to express. And so it’s like a muscle that we train.
Judson Pierce: Wow. This has been a fascinating discussion. I would love to have you back on any time. I appreciate you so much for coming on and telling us a little bit about your story and what you do. Everyone, it’s Rachel Bailit. She works basically with the son of the guy who brought this all to us going back to 100 years ago and how this is infused all of our entertainment watching. But just the curiosity of wanting to become more authentic in our lives is you’ve got to check her out and go to her website. And thank you again, Rachel for being here.
Rachel Bailit: Thank you. What a pleasure. I wish the best to everyone listening.
Judson Pierce: Well, for everyone listening, I appreciate you. Thanks for coming on and listening to another episode of Workers’ Comp Matters. Until next time. This is Jud Pierce, and make it a day that matters.