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Do you know what the secret is to all good theater? No, it's repetition. And timing. And repetition. But mostly timing.

YHB has an unfortunate tendency to slow pacing. Not terrible, and at least I'm aware of it, but still—I like to create a silence to speak into. A rather effective technique, if it is used very, very sparingly.

I should say that I am not generally slow to pick up cues, that's not the issue. It's that once I get into a speech of any length, I tend to find places to pause, to create emphasis with stillness, a kind of creeping Shatnerism, to be honest. As I say, I am aware of this, and I know that it can be easily overused, very very easily, and so I struggle with it.

My point is that I have a line, one line in particular in this play, that seems to me to require a pause before I speak. There's my cue line, and then I come to a decision and speak. In order for the audience to follow that I have come to a decision, and that I am coming to a decision right at that moment, there needs to be a pause.

But how long a pause?

My instincts will tell me to prolong the moment, that the tension is continuing to build. My instinct will continue to tell me that for at least, oh, three or four seconds after the last audience member has dropped off to sleep. My instinct is not to be trusted. So I will not trust my instinct. I'm not sure how I will wind up judging the pause—there's the simple method of counting two, or I could find a way to have Richard (for it is Richard, inevitably, to whom I speak) cue me on his instinct by raising an eyebrow or otherwise unobtrusively kicking me. Or something will come up—the one thing I know for sure is that whenever I do speak, it will feel to me rushed.

Which means that every night, at the end of that scene, I will leave feeling a twinge of dissatisfaction. And I will feel that twinge of dissatisfaction no matter what. If I don't feel that I rushed the line, I will feel that I dragged it out; if I nail it by any objective measure—including an audible gasp from the audience and a chorus of ooooohs—I will still feel rushed.

Ah, well. Such is life. As we hear in They Might Be Giants, everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Perhaps this is a silly question, but has the director given you any sort of, um . . . well, direction with regards to this line?

Having been on both sides of the script (or at least two -- I'm not much of as designer, dramaturg(e), stage manager, or techie) the actor in me says that no notes from the director indicates that something is working well.

However, having been a director, one of the challenges I find is putting my ideas into language that is evocative but also guides actors in ways that considers the scope of the production, the overall artistic vision, the chemistry between individual actors, the limitations of the physical space, blah blah blah, all that stuff that really has little meaning when not tied to specific production work.

Have you tried going against your instincts, just to see how it works?


I will certainly seek direction from my director, when we get to that point in the process. We have three weeks (less a day) before we open, and we really have just got through the part of the rehearsal where we block stuff out, and the next part where we just try to get through each act and see where stuff must be changed, fixed, discarded, heightened, blown up. I think our next time through that scene will be Thursday, at which point we will be running half-the-show. We will be off-book (ish) and I think the director will begin to have a good sense of the pacing and timing and so on.

So far, when we have run the scene, I have been going against my instinct to the point where it feels rushed and unclear; the director seems to like it that fast, so I suspect that is how we will be playing it. I will probably ask her before we run it on Thursday to keep an eye out for the timing and let me know what she thinks—I suspect she is so pleased (and with good reason) by how the scene is going up until that point that she hasn't given a thought to the length of the pause.

Thanks,
-V.


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