Listening and watching (in a positive way) are very underrated. In a previous ‘life’ I was a therapist (remedial massage mostly) and I spent many years teaching others how to assess the varying conditions of their clients.

Listen, watch and, in the case of a physical therapy, get your hands on (but even then you are listening with your hands). In theatre, observation is everything – but not just in theatre. The same applies if you just want to help a friend. Watch .. listen. Where are they?

Director sitting nicely, brain engaged and keeping quiet (for now)
Director sitting nicely, brain engaged and keeping quiet (for now)

The point is, there is nothing you can do to assist anyone to achieve anything if you can’t see where they’re standing right now. We all know that we want to get from A to B. We can see B ok, but being unsure about the location of A all we can do is make a lot of noise about B. And we’re good at noise. We like to talk, but it’s not always good to. We need the silence. As the hypothetical pathway from A to B is different for everyone, it is crucial to locate A and to explore the potential pathways to get to B. When you find them, you can reach out to them in the place they are occupying and then you can be helpful. But we can’t do that if we fill the silence with words.

No words required
No words required

The other night I was running a workshop with some teenagers. They were working on sketches that were made up in about 10-15 minutes. When people start to create a sketch in a group they tend to talk about it. Then they create lines and, very often, a complex plot. They’re working entirely in their heads and talking about it as much as they can and the result is almost always a load of lines that attempt to stitch together a plot that can’t possibly be acted out with much confidence because 15 minutes is nowhere long enough to achieve that. Having established that we changed tack and created scenes that were improvised without any discussion and without any lines. They gradually built up a scene by figuring out what was happening to those ‘on stage’ and then joining in. The atmosphere was charged with the power of the ‘feelings’ they were able to create in their silent world. They watched, explored, responded, adjusted, related and gradually they were all in a scene together they had understood without asking a single question.

It’s a great way to work with actors. It is normal to ‘be in your head’, it is less comfortable to act out feelings or to use your body to convey meaning in place of words. They loved it, it made them feel alive on stage. As soon as they have words to say the head will demand to be the main player. But the more you can simply observe and respond in the silence, the better actor you will become. Equally, the more you will understand about your friends, family or clients. Meet them in the silence … see what happens.

The Noble Art of Observation and the Power of Silence

2 thoughts on “The Noble Art of Observation and the Power of Silence

  • Avatar
    June 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Brilliant as usual. I remember once having difficulty choosing the right path, let alone finding it. A friend told me that when you can’t see the wood from the trees, then just visualise your destination and the path will become obvious.

    Keep blogging. It’s very useful stuff.

  • Barbara
    June 12, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Thanks Nonny (not stopping – having far too much fun). Sometimes I’m tempted to day ‘THERE’S A PATH???’. But really wherever you tread is your path (which makes it a lot easier to find…), although it may not go to your preferred destination (getting deep now). Cracking session with the youth theatre on Monday – do love it when it comes together like that!

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