The Sound of Silence: A Note to the Beginning Actor

The beginning actor is faced with a problem. How do you get meaning out of mere words. The everyday method is, of course, punctuation. It shows us when to pause and how long the pause should be. It shows you how to emphasize and inquire. The rumor is punctuation was invented for actors, to help them understand the writer’s intention. But punctuation is not enough. Especially for the novice.

While acting isn’t simple it is fundamentally basic. Doing anything at a basic level and doing it well requires practice and lots of it. Doing the basics is the discovery of a thing at its root. Down where it lives. A finding of origins, but less obtusely, a letting go of the complex for the basic facts of the thing.

One thing that seems difficult for the beginner is to know when silence is required. John Malkovich contends `the theater is not spectacle it is sound’. Is silence a sound? Of course not. Or is it? Many of the best moments in a play can be the silence that allows the audience a chance to absorb what it has witnessed.

Here’s what I do to build in silence. I call it the zero-1-2-3 method

Let’s do a basic exercise with this passage from A Christmas Carol. Here it is in its original form from the 1843 edition.

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel.

             The fireplace was paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh’s daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds and yet the face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole.

Here it is with the zero 1-2-3 method applied.

It was a very low fire indeed (Zero 0ne) nothing on such a bitter night( Zero One). He was obliged to sit close to it,(Zero One) and brood over it,(Zero One) before he could extract the least sensation of warmth (Zero) from such a handful of fuel. (Zero One Two)

                The fireplace was paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, (Zero One) designed to illustrate the Scriptures. (Zero One Two) There were Cains and Abels, (Zero One) Pharaoh’s daughters,(Zero One) Queens of Sheba, (Zero One) Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds (Zero One Two) and yet the face of Marley, (Zero One) seven years dead,(Zero One) came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, (Zero One) and swallowed up the whole. (Zero One Two)

`HUMBUG!’ (zero) said Scrooge.

As you read this aloud read the zero one twos aloud as well. Read it through a couple of times then read it aloud but read the zero one twos silently, but continue to move your lips as though you are saying them. You will hear new meaning in the paragraph, I promise you.

 

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