The Value of Silence
Here I am making a post in a busy (and noisy) junior technology class. Just like in Drama, my students are having fun. But (perhaps unfortunately) many of them associate enjoyment with noise.
A couple of weeks ago I read an interesting article quoting a Hollywood film director complaining that too many of our movies today are simply full of noise. One may only have to watch The Bourne Ultimatum to be convinced. I just threw in the DVD of this fantastic movie, closed my eyes and laid back and listened to 10 minutes of … you guessed it …noise … and loud, continuous noise, at that.
This all got me thinking of the value of silence … in drama, of course. Silence is often forgotten in student performances, but when used wisely, its effects can be profound.
When performing solo performances or monologues, in particular, I often encourage many of my students to begin with silence (not to be confused with the silence of getting into character, I mean the first 15 or 20 seconds of the performance, itself). Silence at the start of a performance can set the required tone or mood from the outset. Silence draws the audience in, resulting in a tightly focused image of a sole actor. Add stage lighting and the visual picture can be impressive.
Often accompanying silence in performance is stillness. These two elements sometimes go hand in hand and complement each other. Stillness and silence can create effective dramatic tension in performance. The silence can be continued just long enough to increase the tension, but if you draw it out too long your intentions may fail. Like stretching a rubber band until the second before it breaks, stillness and silence in performance need to be carefully calculated to create the required mood and tension.
Of course, silence does not necessarily need to occur at the beginning of the drama. It can be anywhere the actor or director wants it. Stillness and silence occurring suddenly, or soon after scenes full of activity and noise, can result in effective contrast in performance. It is this example of light and shade that can turn good drama into great drama.
We all love it when a moment of silence is so “loud” in performance, you can hear a pin drop in the house. These are moments of magic when the audience is entirely focused on the stage action, completely immersed in the events occurring before them.
Last week my Year 12 Drama students performed an evening of 7-minute solo character performances at school for parents and friends. While everyone may well remember the hilarity and laughter resulting from the more comic performances on the program, as their Drama teacher, it was those few moments of deliberate stillness and silence in the more serious performances that I remembered most.