Shakespeare has writer’s block. Nothing inspires him. The best he can come up with is “Now is the winter of our irritation!” Postcards from Shakespeare by Allison Williams is so much more than your typical Shakespeare spoof.

Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

A Pause for Pauses

“Music is the space between the notes”

Claude Debussy

Translated for theatre: “ Acting is what you do when you’re not speaking.

One of the most common issues I see (and easiest things to improve) with school theatre productions is the absence of silence (a.k.a. the lowly pause).

I’m not talking about awkward pauses where the actor struggles with a line or is slow to pick up a cue. I’m talking about purposeful pauses.

Pauses in the theatre, similar to negative space in graphic design, are vital to telling the story of the play. They give the character time to process information. They give the audience time to process information. They can create tension and they can release tension.

Young actors tend to fear the pause and the silence that comes with it. They’re bursting with energy and want everything to flow out as quickly as possible.They’ve been told to pick up their cues and mistake that direction for a call to speed everything up.

Here’s a very simple exercise to try in rehearsal.

  • Read through a scene from the play, books in hand, even if the actors are off-book.
  • Every time you reach a comma, pause for two full seconds. Every time you reach a period, pause for five.
  • As you’re reading, which pauses feel natural? Which don’t?
  • After reading the scene like this, have each actor choose the one line (or sentence or sentence fragment) that is the most important to their character in the scene.
  • Perform the scene on its feet. This time focus on the “most important” line you chose above. Take the full comma and period pauses from the reading during those lines.

Postscript: The opposite is true in professional theatre. Professional actors have no problem taking pauses. Running times will often get progressively longer and longer. You’ll hear from your friendly neighbourhood stage manager if this is the case. I speak from experience :)


Related Articles

Video Tip – How Do I Control Pauses?
Video Tip – How Do I Control Pauses?
Bringing Shy Students out of their Shells in the Drama Classroom
Bringing Shy Students out of their Shells in the Drama Classroom
Exercise: Same Lines, Different Meanings
Exercise: Same Lines, Different Meanings

Enjoy a Front Row Seat to Our Newsletter!

Subscribe for our exciting updates, insights, teaching resources, and new script releases. Plus, sign up now and get 4 plays and 2 lesson plans for FREE!

Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company
Theatrefolk is the Drama Teacher Resource Company. We are your one stop shop for Plays, Resources, and Curriculum Support - all specifically designed for High School and Middle School drama teachers.
Follow Us!
Drama Teacher Academy
Copyright © 1995-2024