Non-Verbal Action in a Highly Verbal Production
by Larry Hunt
Does this sound like a contradiction in terms? Well, then shame on the terms! Let’s dig down and find the point, because there is one somewhere. Stay with me for a just a couple of minutes.
Words and Action - Yin and Yang
Scripts are words strung together and words are comprised of letters which are symbols a culture has designated to represent particular sounds and when grouped together respond to the intent of the word. A very complicated system evolving and changing over a long period of time.
Usually this word system is quite inadequate to represent such things as emotions, which are the backbone of humanity. Anger, for example, has quite a range of energies and shadings and just the word alone does not tell us much.
So who should you believe?
Reading a script can be quite difficult because a story or stories are being represented in verbal situations but the quality of the sounds intended by the author is not heard. The words just sit there waiting to be ‘interpreted’ by a performer. Therein lies the next problem.
More complications - Sheesh!
Can the interpreter know what the author intended and what if the interpreter disagrees with the author and finds his/her own interpretation? More complications. Then how does one reach the ‘shadings’ of the emotional interpretation in the vocal element so the audience can relate or respond and understand the actor’s intent? See how complicated theatre is? And it is.
The Key to Un-Complication
This is what ‘training’ is all about and ‘training’ becomes just as complicated because there are so many approaches which also change over time, and they should. Societies change. Values change. Ways of representing them also need to change. But a common thread through the ages is the physical; non-verbal representation for verbal intents and these non-verbals are often as not, universal. They also make a play more interesting.
A non-verbal gesture can say a page of dialogue. (Picture worth a thousand words syndrome.) With “Constitution Now” the dialogue spanned several ages and we decided to represent different eras with a little physical posturing we interpreted to help define the times. This is more fun for the actors; more visually fun for the audience.
Finally! - The Secret of Learning Through Theatre
Newspaper headlines, one after the other, on paper are just newspaper headlines. Finding a visual format, which is fun to watch, has symbolic intent, good energy and a visual/verbal climax allows the audience to remember the scene more readily. Humans are first and foremost visual receptors. This is how we remember most things, with a visual connection. Content comes with the visual representation. The verbal comes later.
A major challenge with “Constitution Now” was to find the variations of staging words, many words, to help represent their intent. Timing, tempo, pacing, intensity, emotions, emotional levels, silences are just a few of the elements of consideration in staging a play; a scene; a line; a word. We enjoyed the process and we believe you will enjoy the results; and will easily remember what is represented through the Non-Verbal verbosity.
And an important takeaway...
So the real question is: should you try this at home? But of course! We learn by doing, don't we? Now go make some noise...er...take some action. Well, perhaps some noisy action?