One of the most memorable exercises from my classes/workshops was one in which the instructor made us do a three-line scene over the course of a minute; if we ran through our lines in ten seconds, we had to stay on stage for the remaining fifty. When my turn came, I got up on stage and started dancing obnoxiously around my scene partner while making faces at him. Meanwhile, he kept pointing at a chair and glowering at me. Eventually, I sat in the chair, and he responded by forcefully turning around another chair, sitting down, and yelling, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce!” I’m not sure if we ever delivered the other two lines.

Playing with silence can be fun, and this weekend treated me to a couple other examples during performances by some local sketch and improv teams.

One was in a sketch and explored the kind of anticipatory joy akin to what a child might feel while turning a handle and waiting for a jack-in-the-box to pop open (see Neither of the performers said a word during the entire sketch; it was their actions and facial expressions that made the scene.

The other example happened during a Harold and served as a non-invasive form of side support. All that happened was that one of the performers on the sidelines walked across the back of the stage while looking aghast at two of the main players in the scene. She said nothing, they didn’t stop what they were doing to react to her, but the point was made nonetheless.

Kevin Mullaney’s “No Gap Dialog” explores some ideas around silence and suggests an exercise that goes in the opposite direction: it removes as much silence as possible. I’m reminded a lot of the  “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” exercise except that Mullaney’s places the emphasis on exploring the role that silence can play in a scene. I can’t wait to try it!

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