When a scene doesn’t seem like it’s working, one of the simplest solutions can be to pick up the pace. Driving through to the end of the line and cutting lengthy pauses can not only improve the dynamics of the scene, but also add a much-needed sense of urgency. Pauses can be extremely effective, however, over-emphaising these pauses can all too easily produce a sluggish and indulgent performance.
In reality, people have a real need to talk, and often they need to get their point across swiftly in danger of being cut-off or interrupted. Language is the actor’s most powerful weapon – speak clearly and to the point, slow dialogue can lose the attention of the audience and the actor across from you!
However, be careful in picking up the pace that you don’t lose your intention, or the specificity of the line. Sometimes it’s not a case of speeding up your talking, just your thinking. Rapid gear changes and shifts are extremely energising on stage and make for an exciting and gripping performance. Trust the work you’ve done in rehearsal and be confident that you understand the sense of what you’re saying. Pinging out key words will assist the audience in following the meaning as you drive through your lines. Remembering always that speed doesn’t mean monotony. You can still find a lot of variety and colour in your delivery, whilst increasing the overall pace.
By establishing a sense of urgency and desperation within your character, your use of pauses can be just as moving as dialogue. These pauses aren’t a chance for you to switch off as an actor – thoughts and intentions must continue to run through your head as you decide your next tactic.
Note: When it comes to pauses, be lead by the playwright. A lot of playwrights will tell you when to pause, so follow their instruction. There is a musicality in a play and the playwrights are the songwriters. Adding in superfluous or exaggerated pauses will fracture the language. Harold Pinter is a very precise writer and worth a read to get a feel for pauses.