Communication happens mostly though tone, gesture and facial expression. The words themselves play a small role; they have no meaning or reason without an action to back them.
Students line as if tied together (around seven bodies) facing front, arms down. They practice walking sideways. If you have around twenty students you will have three sets. Once they are comfortable have them change positions a few times, then mix the students from the three groups and create three new walls.
Mix quickly: unplanned by pointing, you go there, you go there so each one walks to different spots. If the spot is still taken the student waits behind. This will make it easier to see which spots need to be exchanged.
The roles are chosen randomly from a box where one paper has an "A", one has a B", and seven have an "X "with a number: X1, X2, X3,...enough to make up the wall. If there are several walls: Y1, Y2, Y3....
- Actor A passes, stops at the edge and walks backward center stage to put his/her ear to the wall. Curious, A walks to one side, then the other, casually. The wall moves at the same pace so that A is always centered.
- Variation: The wall must wait until A is almost at the edge before moving, so that, as A walks s/he is always at the edge. A stops, tries to look over the side without moving the feet (the wall moves slightly) , then tries to look over the wall (wall stands high, necks pulled as much as possible). The Wall then waits until A has reached the other side before moving, so A is always at the edge. A goes back to center, looks up and sees a "rope" hanging. He reaches and finally catches the end.
- A is pulling on the rope, that is caught, and doesn't notice Actor B, who stops to watch. S/he goes up to A and asks what s/he’s doing. B lets go of the rope, clutches the heart with one hand and leans against the wall.
- A asks B to listen to the noise on the other side the wall and wants both of them to get to the other side. At first B says it’s out of the question, too risky, not worth losing one's job, then agrees. With their backs to the wall they walk sideways facing the audience with the same stealthy movements. When they get to the edge of the wall they lean backwards to look. Then they go the other way, led by B.
- B is "pulled" in behind the wall. A is looking the opposite direction and doesn't see B pulled. When A turns back, B has disappeared. A looks around when s/he realizes B may be behind the wall. S/he doesn't go to check but walks with long strides all around terrified.
- C walks up and everything A says s/he repeats back: "What am I going to do? What are you going to do? I'm a fool. You're a fool. It's all my fault. It's all your fault... A exits.
- B appears from the other side holding a plate of caviar and a glass of champagne
What happens after?
Begin this exercise by running in place, pointing the knees as high as possible (cartoon run) then relax, stretch, the back pulled upward. Have the energy ebb through the body, heart, gut, down to the soles of the feet. With each exhale let the tingling run through you and into the floor through the toes. This is a truly amazing discovery - how easy it is to visualize thoughts into concrete reality. All I have to do is think of it my toes will tingle, and if it can go to a toe it can reach anywhere.
- Look at an imaginary wall in front of you, face relaxed. Stay centered, be aware of being centered.
- The wall starts "speaking" in low tones. Look around and lean your head forward slightly. Concentrate.
- Another voice comes up - there’s a conversation going on. Turn your head slightly to one side and lean forward with your ear. Concentrate.
The conversation takes several turns: shocking, even more shocking, ironic, worrisome and infuriating. Do not show any expression while you are taking in all this information. Just think: I’m shocked. I’m shocked but not surprised. I’m worried, I’m rightous and I'm angry!
Two actors right and left separated by (an imaginary) walk-in closet. This means there will be closet-space between them, with two separate walls. They open the door to their rooms (turn the key, open the door, step through, close the door, turn the lock...) and hear a voice coming from the opposite wall (center stage). They walk up to their respective walls to listen, and hear a second voice.
The actors are always indirectly in contact with each other. One actor will hear the voice and the second actor wil "hear" it as well. Whichever way the first actor approaches the wall, the second actor must react differently (if actor A rushes up to listen, actor B will hesitate).
Once both are near the closet walls one actor will hear a second voice and glue his/her ear to the wall, the second actor looks at the wall an instant, then glues his ear to his wall. A reacts to what he hears, while B internalizes. Only his/her eyes show his/her feelings.
King Oedipus of Theses has sent a detective to find out who killed his father, vowing to punish the murderer. A visiting family member is resting in her/his room. S/he hears a voice, then two voices coming from the wall. S/he goes to listen.
Shocked: Oedipus has just found out he murdered his father Laius. He didn’t know it was his father because he was adopted by Creon but he’d killed a stranger many years back as an arrogant young man on his way to Thebes, when the traveler was in fact his own father.
Very shocked: He’d unknowingly married his mother Jocasta, whose husband had recently died.
Ironic: The oracle’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
Worried: How her friend and mother are coping.
Angry: He may have been a good and just leader but Oedipus had temper. He’d seen that the stranger was a well-dressed older man. Out of respect for all elders he should have immediately given his cortège the right of passage on the road.
Very angry: Just look at what his actions brought upon him, his family and his kingdom!
- Apply this scene to the following play, Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter, where Creon overhears his niece’s plan to bury her brother notwithstanding his orders under pain of death.
Two gods walk into their private chambers and sit at (an imaginary) table waiting to be served but nobody comes with the food. They don’t know what to do; they’ve never been in this situation before. They hear a voice, then two voices coming from the wall. Swishing their imaginary godly cloaks they approach the closet wall to listen.
Shocked: Two Athenians (former sophists disgusted with the deteriorating social values in their city) traveled to the Kingdom of the Birds and convinced them to revive their original supremacy over the sky.
Very shocked: The birds had set a decree where all offerings to the gods would be blocked before they reached Olympus
Ironic: Just when the gods were looking forward to a traditional dish served on feast days.
Worried: Where are they going to find food?
Angry: This shouldn’t be allowed!
Very angry: How dare the birds do this to them?
The Grouch (Diskolos)
Cnemon does not want his daughter to meet a young man, Sostrate, and nothing can change his mind. He is getting ready for bed when he hears a voice coming from the wall. He freezes. He hears two voices, slowly he tiptoes to the wall.
Shocked: Gorgias, Cnemon’s step-son and Sostrate are plotting a way to meet his daughter against his wishes.
Very shocked: They call him a foolish old man
Ironic: After everything he’s done for the girl.
Worried: How to stop the meeting
Angry: They think they can the better of him!
Very angry: How dare his daughter go against his wishes!
The actors that make up the wall (around seven) are asked to keep the body straight, rigid and close together. The wall can only move sideways and the only communication with the audience is facial expression with emphasis on the eyes at certain moments: suspicious, worried, scared, angry, cynical, righteous, smirking, depending on the situation. In the first improvisations the actors express what they want, in the next set they work on coordinating their expressions according to the situation: suspicious when they see actor A back up, worried when s/he sees the rope (all look up), scared when s/he clutches his heart, is he going to die?
In the next set of exercises actors can move their fingers. The fingers are creatures that occasionally appear from the creases of the Wall to find food, never far from home. A loud noise is heard, they all come out to see and a gust of wind blowing from one side has all the fingers fluttering. They disappear when A and B come onstage. A couple of fingers want to stay and are pulled in by the other hand.
Actor A uses large movements to communicate, with occasional pauses. Actor B's movements are controlled and linear. We must have a sense of B's personality even before s/he speaks.