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A Role in Their Health : Thespian Jane Marla Robbins shares her professional techniques to help people overcome everyday problems.

March 26, 1993|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sonny Shear had difficulty feeling at ease in social situations because of extreme shyness. His therapist, psychologist James Conway of Burbank, felt that Shear needed professional help in addition to their sessions together. He recommended another professional: actress Jane Marla Robbins.

At first, this sounds like an "Only in L. A."-type story. Robbins is not a psychotherapist and doesn't claim to be. She is an actress with international credentials. She's not a therapist, she only "acts" like one. And she teaches people to "act" healthy.

"People go to a therapist to change how they think, feel, appear and behave," Robbins said. "I, and all good acting teachers, deal with the psycho-physical instrument of the actor, in other words, the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual selves.

"It's not 'try and put on a smile'; it's internal," Robbins said. "If you change how you feel inside, that radiates out."

Robbins teaches acting techniques for people to use in their daily lives. The Topanga resident has conducted her workshop, "Acting for Everyday Living," at the Body Mind Institute in West Los Angeles, Classes Unlimited in Sherman Oaks, Information Exchange in Culver City and Esalen Institute in Big Sur. She also has more than a dozen private clients and is writing a book on her techniques.

"I'm really pleased with what she can do," Conway said. "Sonny was a social phobic and his level of functioning is about a thousand times better."

But is Robbins only teaching people to be false and artificial? And how can that be beneficial?

Conway said with a client such as Shear, that doesn't matter.

"If he could imitate healthy behavior--if he could 'fake it, until he makes it'--that would have been fine," Conway said. "But Jane's work is actually more internal that that."

Robbins contends that the changes in behavior brought on by using the acting techniques are not superficial at all.

"When people come to me, they're ready to change," she said. "When people are happy and self-confident, all the things that they thought they couldn't do, they can do: give speeches, teach classes, pick up girls. And enjoy doing it.

"Their true nature is their joy--but a negative tape from their childhood takes over," Robbins said. "The acting techniques get them in touch with their real, happy and secure selves.

"Actors are taught to feel; that's why I went into acting. It's a safe haven for feelings," she said.

Robbins has been an actress for more than 25 years. Her films include three "Rocky" films and "Arachnophobia." On television, she has had recurring roles on "Falcon Crest" and "Knots Landing." She has performed in starring roles on Broadway, including Lady Anne in "Richard III" at Lincoln Center in New York. She also was directed by Louis Malle in "Painting on Wood" at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. And a play she wrote, "Bats in the Belfry," was directed by Roscoe Lee Browne at Spoleto.

Robbins teaches more than 22 acting techniques in her workshop, including sense memory exercises. "If you give your unconscious a sensory command, the body does not know the difference between imagined sensory realities and real ones," she said.

As an example, she asks people to imagine that they have a lemon wedge in their hand, to imagine feeling, smelling, biting into it, feeling the juice run into their mouths. Then she asks the people if they're salivating. Out of the hundreds of people who have taken her workshop in the last 10 years, Robbins said, only one person has not salivated.

"If you think it's snowy, you can get cold. Your body is stupid," Robbins said. "And more importantly, you can re-create the psycho-physical experience of feeling wonderful."

Another technique she uses has clients act as an historical figure or a fictional character, then imagine how that character would react in a certain situation or face a specific problem. Robbins tells of a client who chose George Washington as a role to play. "His whole posture changed," she said. "He suddenly felt important, and people started treating him that way."

Russ Phelps, 37, of Torrance is a marketing consultant who deals with small companies on direct-mail advertising. He attended Robbins' workshop at Esalen and said it has helped him both in business and his personal life. Phelps said he uses the strength of "Star Trek" characters, such as Capt. James Kirk, to overcome problems.

Public speaking is a big part of Ginger Lapid-Bogda's work as a management consultant. Lapid-Bogda, 46, said Robbins' training has helped her learn more about herself. "She gave me a technique that enables me to get over my self-consciousness, to stay inside myself more and to enjoy giving speeches," the Los Angeles resident said. She added that the training helps her to be "more aware of the ways you block yourself . . . and to get rid of your inner judge."

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