Noises

We tried something in yesterday’s workshop which was new to me: the idea was to say a word – we chose the emotive, if overused, “love” – but to precede it with a noise expressive of some emotion of the speaker’s choice. Step two was to then remove the emotional noise and just think it, resulting in an internalised emotion apparent in the manner of the word’s delivery.

That is the theory, at least.

It is an interesting and surely useful technique for loading every word and every sentence with emotional meaning and intensity. Something that, as an actor, I was keen to try out more. So I’ve been doing it at work today.

All morning, before saying anything at all, I have carefully internalised a wail of anguish, a choking sob or a groan of resignation, with the result that the most insignificant comment or query – “this payment should have been processed two months ago,” “has anybody seen the file for Bulb Product Development?” or even “would anybody like a cup of tea?” – suddenly elicits responses of great sympathy and concern.

That is the theory, at least.

In reality, the last question merely elicits a response along the lines of “ooh, yes please,” “remember I have two sugars,” “can you pass the biscuits round as well?” Not one person has reacted to my internal agony in the slightest, not even with a troubled look or reassuring smile. I have been considering reasons why this might be – I momentarily worried that my abilities as an actor were at fault, an idea I naturally dismissed without too much thought. Perhaps my colleagues are simply thoughtless, inhuman and uncaring – a more likely theory. Or maybe they just don’t like me.

The actual reason is far more interesting. While the idea of internalising an emotion before speaking was new and exciting to myself, over the course of the day I have gradually realised everybody else in the office does it already. All the time.

There is a girl opposite me who makes every single thing she says sound like a threat of suicide. Spoken by her, the words “can I use the stapler?” cause a ripple of panic to pass around the office, hands suddenly poised over telephones to call for help, sharp objects quickly concealed in drawers. Clearly, this girl is preceding each word with an internal scream of desperation.

Another woman makes everything sound as if she’s just taken some bread out of the oven. “We’ve just had a complaint from a client who says we’re Luddites,” she’ll say, and everyone will sigh cheerfully and think of Hovis. I suspect she thinks about puppies a lot.

My boss is an impressive woman who somehow makes “I’d like you to do some photocopying” sound like she is bestowing the order of the garter on you. She undoubtedly precedes every sentence with the words “I am the Queen” (I am sure of this because she sometimes says it out loud).

It is an interesting discovery that while we at the Uncertainty Division have to practice ways of giving emotional context to our words, ordinary office workers have somehow perfected the technique. Perhaps office temping is not such a bad training ground for a resting actor…

That is the theory, at least.

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