The fear of time

Credit: Lukasz Ziembick

Silence is not the enemy.

When we first start improvising scenes, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We feel exposed. We crave certainty and hide our anxiety in the numbing comfort of small talk, the lethargy of indecision or the laboured Catechism of rules.

Sometimes, we feel that something has to happen, but we stand, wild eyes, and let a terrible silence descend upon us. We fiddle; go insanely enthusiastic; try something else; speak and talk until we’ve built a wall of words. We realise this won’t do, so we stand, wild eyes, and let a terrible silence descend upon us. We soon learn to hate silences.

Deadly silences occur when we’re not present, curious and wanting of something that is there, something that could be ours, anything. They happen by accident when too much anxiety has left us exhausted. They suck all vitality from the scene and punish the audience for their curiosity.

If improvisation is about making things up, those things need places to go; pauses to brew. Time, space, trust and wonder exist in silence. Connections happen quietly. Change takes root in the gaps.

Active silences arise when we are both wanting and listening. They give breath to the players, depth to the characters, rhythm to the story and a chance to let it all resonate. They happen by choice.

Active silence takes commitment and resilience to master. Time, in the end, delivers capability. We do it, we fail. We do it, we fail. We do it, we fail. Until we get tired of being afraid. So we start listening.

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