In theatre performance there are many ways that the artist can reach the audience, it is done through sound, lights, set, costume, the deployment and movement of human form, and the written and spoken word – and often words can be a component of primary importance. Words help diminish ambiguity and help drive the thematic points of the narrative to a place of clarity, they help flesh out back-stories, reveal sub-plots and let us know in definitive terms what is happening on stage.
So what happens when you deprive the performers and the audience of such a helpful spoonful?
Creating clarity within the silent narrative is not an easy task, evidenced by a general lack of theatre without words – it isn’t often you experience wordless stories outside of dance, and sometimes choreography carries a language that isn’t always immediate to many audiences. Presenting theatre in this manner requires a stylized approach and an attention to structure that in the journey of rehearsal will cost more time within the physical application, to hone the shape of performance into something that will draw the audience through a fully fleshed-out storyline.
For those that are interested and willing, dedicating a sense of practice to the craft of the silent narrative will offer unique insights of the performer to their body. It will beg of the individual a keen investigation of the nature of dramatic tension on stage as well as that which is inherent in the action of the story – it will demand precision in understanding the minutia of every breath and every impulse connected to every thought, instinct and objective through every moment of the story. There is a need to reach every individual in the audience and guide them by the hand and eye, to the point, to make clear the emotional journey of the characters and illustrate the sometimes-complex themes within the script.
Often when finding the steps of clean articulation without words we discover that we hit upon universal physical qualities that bind all people together, regardless of culture or race – a sameness within all of us. We discover stories that lie within the very fabric of our being, ironically simple and yet profound in how they touch us emotionally. Sometimes it can be very powerful to be seen, only seen, and not heard. Add to that the game of mask or puppet and the playground becomes very interesting indeed.
Peter Balkwill is a founding, co-Artistic Director at the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and the Education Director for Canadian Academy of Mask & Puppetry. He holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a BFA in Theatre from University of Victoria. He also serves as the Co-Artistic Curator for the International Festival of Animated Objects, held every two years in Calgary. Join Peter at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Series workshop The Storytelling Body: Mask Performance With The Wonderheads.