Role Play and How to Succeed at it

What you need to know if you're considering working in the world of corporate acting.

By Naomi Joseph

if you think corporate role play is just a substitute acting job, think again. This work requires dedication, commitment and preparation.

The beauty of being an actor is that there are a variety of areas to work in: theatre and television, film and radio. But have you considered expanding your career into the world of corporate acting?

Corporate acting goes by many names: corporate role play, simulation, learning through drama. They essentially mean the same thing. Role play actors simulate situations and behaviours within workshops, training and exams in different sectors. These sectors might include the police, the NHS, small businesses and global companies.

But if you think corporate role play is just a substitute acting job, think again. This work requires dedication, commitment and preparation. In this article you’ll discover more about the sector and how to succeed in it.

Types of Role Play

  • Medical: Simulating patient/doctor scenarios
  • Police: Playing suspects, witnesses or victims in simulated scenarios
  • Corporate: Playing colleagues or customers to demonstrate complex conversations and behaviours in the workplace.

Whilst role play acting usually takes place live and in person, there are also many opportunities for virtual performances. This might include recording internal training videos or using visual recordings to get a glimpse into a character’s inner monologue.

Role Play Techniques

  • Hot Seating: Where delegates (participants of a workshop) ask your character questions to get beneath the subtext of behaviours shown in a scene.
  • Forum Theatre: Many companies use forum theatre to model behaviours. As Artistic Director Daniel McClelland from drama-based consultancy Enact Solutions explains “If we’re working in the area of bullying and harassment we would show a scene where someone feels like they are potentially being bullied. Then we can recreate that scene using forum theatre which essentially allows the people watching to take control of the scene. It’s a really safe way for the participants to practise how to challenge behaviour and how to intervene in the moment.”
  • Improvisation: Whether you receive a five-sentence scenario or a five-page script, you’ll be expected to confidently improvise around the material.

Getting Work

  1. Research: Which sector do you want to work in? Do you prefer scripted work, or do you want greater freedom to improvise? Figure out what interests you and then find the companies doing that work. A good place to start is to take a look at the role play companies listed in Spotlight Contacts.
  1. Prepare: One of the biggest misconceptions about corporate acting is that it’s an easy job for easy money. In reality, you must prepare as you would for any role. “The process and the dedication should be the same: learning those lines, getting ready, playing a character” explains Daniel, “in essence that’s exactly the same as a live production because we’re putting together a performance.”

Benefits of Role Play

  • Role play keeps your skills sharp: improv, character research, script reading. Acting is a muscle, use corporate acting to exercise it!
  • You’ll learn new skills: like how to give constructive feedback. Whether you’re working with newbie doctors or experienced HR managers, providing useful feedback is a skill that must be nurtured. Paul Clayton’s book So You Want To Be A Corporate Actor? expertly breaks down best practices for this.
  • Networking opportunities: you’ll meet other actors which could potentially lead to more work. Take Daniel for example. Whilst on an Enact tour he met another actor who asked him to audition for a show he was producing, which led to Daniel touring the show for two years.
You’ll get the opportunity to play a wide range of characters, which is both challenging and rewarding.

Be Honest with Your Priorities

Role play companies understand that auditions can come up at the last minute but if you make a habit of cancelling gigs then your time in this sector will be short-lived. By saying yes to a role play gig, you are saying yes to a professional acting gig so don’t treat it as a way of killing time.

Pitch Your Performance

You’re there to enhance the participants’ experience, not to show off your Shakespeare. Daniel comments, “If at any point they [the participants] feel like they’re talking to an actor rather than one of their team you lose them and you lose that authenticity.” 

Your performance must be appropriate to the situation you are simulating. This way delegates will be more inclined to participate because the scene will be realistic.

Be Present

When you perform you have a sixth sense of what’s going on around you. Yes, you’re immersed in character but you also track your blocking, your scene partner and the audience. Role play requires the same sense of awareness only this time you are responding to the delegates and also mentally logging moments that you can recall later when you’re giving feedback.

Enjoy It

You’ll get the opportunity to play a wide range of characters, which is both challenging and rewarding. One day you might be playing a high-status department head, the next a vulnerable witness to a crime. You’ll be pushed as an actor and you’ll learn a lot from the research you do. Plus its great fun!

Naomi Joseph is an actor, theatre-maker and writer.

Naomi's work includes 'Criteria', an award-winning spoken word short about cultural identity and bereavement. 'Criteria' is available to watch now on Vimeo.

Its companion piece 'Motherland' is a dark comedy theatre show which played at various festivals across the UK.

Headshot photographer: Robert Boulton