September 01, 2018 Feature

Stagecraft for Trial Lawyers: Insights from the Theater World

Improve your court appearances using these insights from the theater world.

By Peter B. Bensinger Jr.

Download a printable PDF of this article.

Boredom. Boredom. Abject boredom. That was our default state. And my ass was asleep—you know, when your butt is numb, like you’re sitting on thumbtacks. Back then, the jurors’ chairs were wooden. Not like today’s leather upholstery.

The judge sympathized. At a break, she suggested we suck on lozenges. So, the next day, I brought a pocketful of Halls. I doled them out whenever I saw another juror dozing off. And because I was the foreman, my colleagues accepted them without complaint. The menthol shook off imminent slumber.

Yet, in the murky fog of legalese—not “Did you see?” but rather “Did you have any occasion to observe?”—there was a singular ray of sunlight, a Prince Charming who woke us from the prosecutor’s somniferous spell. It was counsel for the defense, Mr. Spettacolo. When he rose to speak, he resurrected us. We all sat up. We shuffled off the residue of monotonous words; we exchanged knowing glances. Showtime!

A master of stagecraft, costume, and props, Spettacolo held our attention. No matter the substance—opening statement, objections, even his humble requests for breaks. We the jury listened to him. We actually listened to him.

But why?

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