Hello! Welcome back!
Our first two weeks of classes for this term are over and I am beyond inspired by the work our students have been doing! The focus of these classes have been verbal and non-verbal performance, which I believe are both equally important. Though I do sometimes believe one form to be more powerful.
In my first year in the Acting Conservatory at York University, my peers and I were not given the opportunity to speak in any of the exercises for half of the year. This was to enable us to live on stage without relying on dialogue; to create a presence with our bodies and throughts, rather than speech. For younger actors, this gruelling amount of silence would just be cruel, so we ensure that our classes have a mix of verbal and non-verbal exercises. But we do work within pantomime and tableau – like a frozen picture on stage – to instill that sense of movement and expression in our actors.
With the popularity and mainstream appeal of the recent film, ‘The Artist’, it has never been more clear that audiences respond to silent performance. I often find that the moments of quiet in film and theatre and the spaces of silent action to be the most affecting. There’s an episode of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ entitled “Hush”, where everyone in the town featured on the show lose their voice. It’s almost entirely done in silence and has been widely regarded as one of the most innovative episodes of modern television. And it’s stuck with me ever since it premiered in 1999. It was groundbreaking in the sense that silence was used to such powerful effect. The story had to unfold without the usual sharp wit and snappy one liners, and a sense of urgency replaced this, as the characters struggled to express themselves and their desires. When everyone’s voice is returned and two major characters are left sitting in the fallout of major secrets being revealed, they decide it’s time to have a serious talk about their relationship. The episode ends with them sitting across from each other, neither knowing what to say. In my opinion, silence often says more than words ever can.
What we’re trying to convey through our non-verbal exercises is the importance of clear intent and clarity of thought. We then bring that over into scene work, improv, and dialogue exercises. If an actor cannot express who they are or what they want on stage, the observer has nothing to connect to. In silence, you have no tools other then your being, your soul even, to reach out to the audience.