I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to “get” The Silence Project.
As you may know, the show presented by Punctuate! Theatre is performed completely in silence. That means no sound effects, no preshow music, and no words! The 45 minute show follows the journey of a woman who chooses to leave the modern day world for a silent ‘dreamscape’ where she encounters, and must learn to accept, characters that represent difference facets of herself.
The main character, played by Julie Ferguson, appeared to be a blank slate, which made her exploration of the emotional states represented by the other characters all the more interesting. As the performance progressed and she interacted with the characters, we experienced her personal growth as she chose to accept parts of the characters she encountered. While the neutral expression on the mask she used to transport herself into the dreamscape reinforced my perception of her as a sort of blank slate, it also kept me at a distance from the character. In a performance born from the idea of connecting using gestures and not words (as the Director explained in my interview with her), I found it difficult to connect with the main character only through the expressions shown through the eye holes in the mask. However, what struck me most about the way Julie played the main character was the innate anxiety I sensed in the way she moved her fingers and tensed her body. Both when she was alone on stage and when she first entered the dreamscape, the way she moved her body projected such anxiety that it made me anxious to watch her, regardless of the fact that nothing anxiety-inducing was happening on stage.
In an interview before the show with Liz Hobbs and Sheiny Satanove, two of the show’s co-creators and actors, they explained that the show started as an idea of finding a new way to communicate on stage without relying on dialogue or sound in order to help engage those potential audience members who may face barriers to enjoying traditional theatre. While The Silence Project was effective in communicating to me, I cannot personally say whether or not the show was effective in accomplishing its purpose of engaging new audiences. Opening night was the first time the show had been performed in front of any audience, so I would be interested in how other audience members react to The Silence Project.
To that end, I enjoyed the way the secondary characters were portrayed. The ’emotional states’ that the main character encounters were presented as archetypal characters through larger than life actions and an intensely physical embodiment of their intentions. Using this physical language of exaggerated movement enabled communication between the main character and the other characters (and the audience) without requiring verbal language or music. The actors exaggerated their characters’ core beings so well, but did so by using gestures that were still abstract enough that I was thoroughly engaged in creating the story in my own mind. It was thanks to these characters – played by Liz Hobbs, Elliot James, Andréa Jorawsky, and Sheiny Satanove – I was able to walk away from The Silence Project feeling like I understood the story that had just been told.
While I’m not sure if there will be another iteration of The Silence Project after this run is over, this show definitely has a lot of potential and I would be interested to see how much further Punctuate! Theatre could push the boundaries of communication in theatre. Perhaps by removing the communication by heavy breathing or even altering the audience’s physical state – earplugs, perhaps?
The Silence Project runs January 8 – 13 at the TACOS Space (10005 80 Avenue). Performances are every evening at 7:30 pm and a Sunday matinee at 2:00 pm. Check out the performance schedule on YEGLive.ca. Tickets are $15 – $20 and can be bought from Tix on the Square. Punctuate! Theatre also has a season subscription where subscribers can see all four of this season’s shows for $60.
– Jenna Marynowski