The anagram of “listen” and “silence’ is very interesting.
The words play into each other so well, in life, in friendship, and certainly in theater and playwriting specifically.
One struggle for Americans is the ability to appreciate silence. There’s a need to use the phrase, “well, this is awkward,” or some variation of it. There’s an inclination to fill the empty space with something anything due to the discomfort of our own thoughts or the worry of another’s. (This is not representative of every American, but certainly many from personal experience and observation.) It’s something I took personally at first when one of my friends from Europe pointed it out to me about the way I spoke and the amount of words I used. But I learned to appreciate the feedback as a gift.
But there is something beautiful and powerful about silence, whether it is a mutual silence or one’s own while listening to someone or something else. There is a special uniqueness that only subtext/reading between the lines can bring. So much can be learned by both what isn’t said and the body language that can accompany it.
While there can be a tug and pull between a Director and the playwright’s stage directions, many times there are intentional pauses and beats inserted with the hope of creating these special silent driven moments like intenseness and suspense – which can be applied to pure comedy, romance/sexual tension, reflection, secrets, growing anger, a lingering pain, the ability to almost hear when someone is looking in your direction, etc… Silence is a way of drawing the audience into the characters, emotions, and thus the world they are embracing in the dark of the theater. It’s a technique I hope to better learn, fine tune, and integrate going forwards.
I saw the spectacular use of this last week in the Woolly Mammoth Theater’s Production of Kiss. They exercised this technique in multiple ways, both for comedy and to provoke a deeper meaning in the political message and empathy I feel they were trying to relay and have everyone rally around. This play shook me in ways I’d like to delve into in a different post. But at the end, there was a serene sadness and understanding. One wasn’t quite sure when they play would end until the actors, still in character storm off rather than taking the time to acknowledge the end and bowing or receiving applause. This may seem odd, but if you are there, caught in the moment, especially in that intimate theater, it will make more sense.
If you are intrigued about the gift, the power of silence, here is a great article from the Guardian about a perspective on silence.