Tina Packer on Leadership

The American Shakespeare Center plays host to another Federal Executive Institute today, and Shakespeare & Co’s Tina Packer, director of this semester’s M.Litt/MFA production of Pericles was on hand to talk on leadership in Shakespeare’s works. While this is a private event, your friendly neighborhood ASC education department blogger is on hand to bring you the inside scoop.

Packer starts by asking what struck institute attendees from their readings from her book Power Plays, which institute attendees have been reading, and what has moved them personally in the last couple of years. She promises to also “spill her guts” to help get the conversation moving. While going around the room, Packer introduces the idea that leaders need “to be the generator of the energy.” Persuasion and manipulation can go hand in hand. “Am I manipulating everybody? Yes. Can they be happy I’m manipulating them? I hope so. I’m only averse when you’re manipulating them to something bad.”

Packer characterizes rhetoric as being the essential component of Renaissance education. “Whether they were studying history or the humanities” the students of the Elizabethan schools were always studying the art of communication. This is what enabled the enlightenment, and Packer identifies the influence of Renaissance rhetoric on the founding documents of the United States. She considers that modern sensibilities of truthfulness have veered away from refined language and the art of communication. We too often today associate honesty with being “a man of few words” and focus on “truthful grunting.” This, she argues, is not a type of communication conducive to effective leadership. The tools of acting and persuasion can be used to create a more truthful leader who is more connected to both their causes and those whom they lead.

“We often don’t know how our creativity is going to affect other people” she says, citing Ira Aldritch’s influence on British Parliament’s decision to not support the Confederacy during the American Civil War. She argues that human beings are inherently creative, and that by harnessing the impulse to play with others that we all share, you can start to become truly creative. “All resistance is energy that’s blocked,” she says.

She concludes her session by having institute attendees experience finding the tension in their own bodies in an attempt to release that tension. She also directs them in a breathing exercise to help them control themselves through control of their bodies. With that, it’s time for the FEI to move on to another session, but Packer leaves us on a great note of individual empowerment, and with another great example of art influencing life.

And it’s time for me to be moving along, too, but thank you for joining the American Shakespeare Center Education Department once again.