I once wrote a poem about trying to write a poem. It goes like this:
It’s never enough
The words inside my head
Scrambling for freedom
It’s never enough
The space between the words
It’s not enough
To know, to have, to feel.
There must be
Outside my head
A clear perceptive silence
Room to manoeuvre.
Then I decided to include this poem in a play about an actor who was also a poet. It became a shared moment between the actor and her grandson, a way for him to demonstratte to her that he had read her work. But as soon as we (I played the actor) began rehearsing the scene, I realised that it was also highly relevant to acting itself.
The actor who is responsible for expressing a memorised text is especially challenged, dealing with words inside the head, all vying for their turn to come out.
Every moment the actor is not actually speaking, the challenge is to stay attentive and responsive, while yet more words flit in and out of consciousness, demanding attention, adding new challenges and sometimes even trying to change the subject.
A “clear perceptive silence” is something we have to earn, and yet it is also the very thing that makes the difference between a clump of chatter and a dialogue.
The answer, then, is to own that silence, to make the text that is expressed as much about the silence as it is about the semantics of the words and phrases. I’m not suggesting great big unnecessarily long pauses. I’m talking about the space, both aural and physical, that allows language, in the form of speech, to be wholly itself.
Silence, in spoken text, is the equivalent of rests in a musical score. Without the rests, there is no room for the listener. And if we don’t want the listener to be part of what we are doing, why on earth are we doing it?
I look forward to your comments.