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.

7 Responses

  1. HELP says:


    • Justin Cash says:

      Silence is only one method of achieving tension in a drama performance. The very fact that there is no dialogue in a moment of silence, often but not always accompanied by stillness, means the audience often thinks more about what is happening on stage, asks questions inside their head etc. As a result, the tension of the drama can increase, along with the suspense. This of course can depend on the plot, character relationships etc. Here’s an interesting article about an Off-Broadway production where the playwright deliberately includes directions for moments of silence in her play – “It’s interesting working on her stuff because most theatre is about trying to pick up the pace. She’s after real life, where silence is actually the rule.” – Justin

  2. musadiq says:

    what do you say about the Repitition in Drama?

  3. Amoding Rinah says:

    types of dramatic silence?

  4. Fatemeh says:

    Hi…I’m a theater student from Iran. There are not enough refrences here and I have a project about The meaning of Silence in Dram. If every one here can help me please send me message:
    Thanks a lot.

  5. Justin Cash says:


    There is no particular exercise I use in Drama/Theatre classes for student performers to use silence.

    I just get them to see enough professional theatre themselves and to observe stillness and silence in performance by others. We then analyse this via discussion back in the classroom. Once they see the value of silence in performance, I then encourage them time and time again to use it in their own dramas at school.

    I agree with you student performers sometimes have a fear of using silence. Indeed, it is the more confident ones that are usually able to experiment with it first and then successfully integrate this technique into their own performances.

    It is a bit like student performers using a symbol in their dramas. As with stillness and silence, some get it, while others struggle with it and never seem to fully understand its value.


  6. Craig Mason says:

    Very valuable insight.

    Student performers often have a fear of silence, particularly when nerves take over. Are there any particular exercises/techniques you use to encourage such moments?

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