What do you call an improviser without a voice?
No, this isn’t the set-up to a joke. And yes, there is a real answer to be found. You see, for the past two weeks, I’ve been asking myself this very question. Struck with a long-winded bug and a bout of laryngitis for the holiday season, I found myself in countless situations where all I needed was a voice.
There were days when I went to the dental clinic, attempting to provide pre-op and post-op information for tooth extractions without using any words. And when I approached my patients with a needle, all I could do was smile through a mask, having no words to dictate the scenario.
There were afternoons when I climbed into a cab, wanting to say ‘hi’ to the smiling driver. All I could do, though, was point to my throat, and mouth the absence of words. The rest of the ride was in complete silence.
And, as the opening line suggests, there were even evenings when I jumped on the improv stage, wanting to contribute dialogue to a scene, but finding myself able to do little more than interact with my body and face.
The transition to silence was a challenge, to say the least.
Because words fill the emptiness of a moment. Or they beautifully frame a memory. They gloss over the emotions of a situation. Or they embrace the feelings in the room. They distance two people with the vacancy of meaning. Or they create a connection only possible through story. Words are a part of life, a part of connection as so many of us know it. And to be without words suddenly is striking.
- When I had something to say, I had to ask myself, ‘Is this worth the effort?’
- When I had something to contribute, I had to wonder, ‘Is there another way to communicate the same meaning?’
- When I wanted to connect, I had to explore why words had to be the only way to do so. What about a smile? What about a nod? What about a simple moment of rare and impactful eye contact?
I wouldn’t recommend catching a bug that lasts over two weeks and takes your voice for more than half that time, but I would recommend trying something new: silence. You can use words, of course. When I can talk again, there is so much I’ll have to say, so many comeback lines I had to hold in as the world found joy in laryngitis (there is joy everywhere!).
But if, before speaking, we all ask ourselves those same questions I have had to ask myself recently – is this statement worth the effort, is there another way to communicate, is there a stronger way to connect than with words – we can all discover something truly empowering: in silence, we grow more effective. This is true in improv; it’s true in friendship; it’s even true in business. Though, my patients getting extractions through my laryngitis may argue dentistry is the exception to this golden rule.
As an improviser stepping on stage without a voice, I had nothing to say. So I had to listen. And when it came my time to respond, I couldn’t just offer a quip and move along. That would be far too easy. Instead, I had to search for the substance of my thought, and I had to use everything I had, every creative neuron in my brain, to express just that substance. Nothing more, and nothing less.
And the scenes moved forward as though nothing was lost.
© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.