Language and Theatre

On the Flip Side (Thursday Thoughts, April 12th 2012)

Once again my Thursday Thought is written on Friday, but this time it’s with good reason: the topic I’m writing about is a play I saw last night with three of my fellow MLCers (note: MLC is the acronym for Master of Arts in Language and Communication, our degree program at Georgetown). It was a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew by Synetic Theater. The catch? It was performed entirely without words.

(Check out the trailer and ticket info HERE)

Okay, so, why is a linguist-in-training writing about a performance that involved absolutely no dialogue? Simply, because it was incredible! You must see this show. I was blown away by the amazing storytelling (and movement) capabilities of this group of performers. Plus, it’s only 90 minutes long (no intermission). Which makes the stamina of these performers even more impressive.

But Lauren (you may ask), seriously, WHY mention this on a language blog? I have two answers for that:

1.  As I mention above, the storytelling is unbelievable. This company uses movement, music, staging, set, all the basic elements of theatre to not only effectively but beautifully connect with each other and the audience. It’s through their interactions that we learn who these characters are and what they want. And this reminds us that the non-verbal signals we use in communication are often just as important as what we say. It’s only by taking in the entire ‘picture’ of all the people in an interaction that we can truly understand what’s going on.

This ties in well with our current topic in my Conversational Analysis class, which is that ignoring the listener to focus only on the speaker is to get an incomplete idea of the interaction, since the listener’s responses directly affect the speaker’s conversational choices. And along these lines, to use audio recording rather than video may deprive the analyst of some vital information that would clue us into what is influencing certain talk in certain moments (think: eating while talking may cause longer pauses between words, which, if you don’t know people are chewing and swallowing may lead to you give those pauses a different interpretation)

2. One of my friends who saw the show, Esther, asked if someone who wasn’t familiar with the story of The Taming of the Shrew would easily ‘get’ this version. My response was that they probably would for the most part, but there was one bit of action that really needed a verbalization: the announcement by the father (Baptista) that his younger daughter (Bianca) could only be married AFTER her older sister (Katherine, the Shrew of the title) was settled with a husband. This version chose to express this by having Baptista write it on a note that was passed around the suitors of Bianca, and we saw their reactions. I believe that while the unfamiliar audience member would get the gist of this (or could read the thoughtfully provided synopsis in the program), that this particular moment is one of the few that really NEEDED a verbal statement to be fully grasped in the action of the play.

      I hope you’ll take advantage of seeing this production while you can. I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you think it was a successfully “told” version of this great play.

       

      Synetic Theater’s production runs from March 31st-April 22nd at The Shakespeare Theater Company’s Lansburgh Theater in downtown DC

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      2 thoughts on “On the Flip Side (Thursday Thoughts, April 12th 2012)

        1. It was highly choreographed, so dance was the primary story-telling device. In fact, the “fight” scenes between Petruchio and Kate were brilliantly done, because these scenes of verbal sparring were done entirely through action.

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