Lazy Tinder profiles

Can't speak? No worries, coz these days we have emojis! The characters in Small Mouth Sounds are on a silent retreat, so we asked them to describe themselves in five emojis – in the style of a lazy Tinder profile.

 

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How do you speak your mind when you can’t say a word? 

Small Mouth Sounds takes place on a silent retreat, which makes for quite an unusual setup: six of the characters barely say a word, while the seventh says quite a lot yet is never seen. This has posed new challenges for the ‘silent’ actors in particular.

“It’s been very challenging to figure out cues,” says Hosanna Megumi, and Stephanie Carlson agrees that the hardest thing has been “the difficulty of hearing cues that are nonverbal!”

It can be difficult enough when the actors are in visual range of each other, but even harder when they’re off stage. Normally, actors will wait out of sight in the wings and listen for their cue to come on – and you can't really have them poking their faces through the back curtain every five minutes to see what's happening!

It can also be difficult for the audience.

“There are six of us on stage, and without lines, it's hard for the audience to know where to look and when,” says Hosanna.

To counter this, the actors need to ‘build up’ to important moments, to make sure that the focus moves to the right place or person at the right time. And the characters who are not involved need to allow that to happen. That is, it's all about maintaining awareness and working together to give and take space as required.

For Mikael Kivimäki, the hardest thing has been having to learn how to mime his character's intentions. Hosanna has also noted that she has had to emote more strongly and make bigger gestures that she would normally do with the support of dialogue. And the difficult part is not necessarily the miming itself, but ensuring that the miming remains natural and doesn’t descend into farce.

Small Mouth Sounds 2021 070 webStephanie, Mira and Salvador play out a silent scene.

However, the actors have also found working with such an unusual play to be an interesting and rewarding experience. 

“My favourite thing about it has been the fact that I've never, ever had the chance to do anything this ‘experimental’ on stage before,” says Mikael.

Not having dialogue to focus on – or indeed fall back on – has made the actors more aware of all the other things that make up the overall experience. Acting without words has made Stephanie “super-conscious of the soundscape of the play” and Hosanna has found that she’s been much more aware of every movement and facial expression she makes. For Mikael, “feeling the emotions without the shield of dialogue has been extremely gratifying and intense.” Stephanie has also “realized that there's a different pace to acting without words – if actions or emotional moments happen too quickly, they are lost.” 

Actors will often learn about their character through dialogue, but in this play, they've had to do that learning through actions, reactions and feelings. Mikael thinks that this has made him a better actor, and he has “loved every second of it, even when the director has made us unroll our sleeping bags approximately twenty-five times a day to get the beginning of the scene just right.”

Small Mouth SoundsWhat is Salomon (centre) silently saying to Mikael (right), and what does Hosanna (left) think about it?

And what about the director? Has it been difficult to direct a play like this? Adrian Goldman had been considering the play for some time, but says he didn’t know what it would be like to direct, and therefore decided to put it on hold and do a number of other things first.  Although Adrian was initially unsure how to approach the play, he found that he simply had to trust the playwright. He says that it’s a really well-written play, and if you listen to what Bess Wohl is suggesting, “then it just starts working”.

When it comes to the practicalities of directing, one of the major challenges has been to help the actors realise that, without words, their actions have to be slightly larger than they would normally be – because the audience doesn’t know where to look until the actors start moving. 

“My approach,” says Adrian, “was to ask people to focus on their own actions and not worry too much about the stage picture – which is much less obvious to them than it is in a normal play. I also used a new technique that I came across a few years ago called free blocking, which means that you don’t have to focus all your attention on telling people what to do, but you let them discover it for themselves.”

Adrian says that it helps to have a cast that is willing to experiment, explore, and try and try again.

“On the other hand, the stakes in most of the scenes are quite high and so it’s easy – or relatively easy – for the actors to commit to those relevant actions,” he says.

All in all, it seems that everyone has learnt new things and techniques that they can apply to enrichen future projects – even when they have gotten their voices back.

Photos: Anni Taponen
Text: Zach Chamberlaine

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The Paradox Gala

Continuing on the theme of Mikael Kivimäki’s blog post about "That scene", Salomon and Salvador talk about their favourite or least favourite moments in the play for their own characters.

“Welcome to the Paradox Gala,” says Salomon Marttila. “The awards for Favourite and Least Favourite Moment both go to... The speech. In it, I address all topics relevant to me (as Ned) in a profound journey from heaven to hell via the coffee table. It's a beast of a monologue that's always intimidating to confront, but enjoyable to ride once I've got it submitted to my will. This part, even as primarily a solo moment, represents to me the magic of acting: getting lost in the zone and tapping into deep emotional vulnerability. It's equally easy and hard, fun and terrifying, love and hate – all those great paradoxes that make theatre.”

NedJan

Salvador Esparza’s favourite moment is at the very end of the play: “Working on this play has been an incredible opportunity to figure out how to convey very complex and soul-deep emotions without the use of spoken or written language. I don't want to spoil too much, but at the very end, Jan's life is forever changed, and it all hinges on a couple of small mouth sounds....”

And soon you’ll be able to read more about the challenges and rewards of acting without words in an upcoming blog post, from the perspectives of both the actors and director.

Photos from the last rehearsal taken by Anni Taponen

"That scene"

Small Mouth Sounds 2021 62 webOkay, so I was asked to write something about "the scene" my character, Rodney, has. In all honesty? Everyone I've told about the scene seems to be more taken aback by it than I am. I don't quite understand why, to be frank. It's a challenge, sure, but I feel very happy about challenges, when it comes to acting. That's why we do this in the first place, right? To challenge ourselves as individuals and to go to uncomfortable places, to find or re-discover something about ourselves.

As anyone who's met me for a Nanosecond will know, I'm not a big, strong guy. Never have been. And I'm quite alright with that nowadays, thanks to the support of good friends and the greatest girlfriend God ever put on planet Earth. But that wasn't always the case, to be honest with you.

There are several "media-sexy" expectations for men as well, and as a teenager, apparently I wasn't meeting those expectations: I was Constantly ridiculed at school about how skinny I was. How I "wasn't enough" somehow, as a guy. And I will admit, it's not like I was helping my case: the classic sports always seemed dumb to me, and like a waste of time. I was always more interested in books, and dancing, acting, music. Those were the things that moved me, Not running around chasing a ball during PE classes.

So now, doing a scene like this, after all of these years? It feels quite good, I must say. Not nerve-wrecking or terrifying, on the contrary, it feels oddly Empowering, actually. Almost like, the second I do it, I'm saying to all of those guys and gals who gave me shit about my appearence back then: "Look at me now, skinny Mikael Kivimäki, showing his birthday suit in front of an audience! Without shame, without fear. I may be still the skinny bastard, but look how I outgrew you in spirit! Look at me Now, you motherf**kers!"

Text: Mikael Kivimäki
Photo: Anni Taponen

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Before & After or After & Before?

So how do things play out on the Small Mouth Sounds silent retreat? Are the participants nervous beforehand, and do they find the inner peace they're looking for? Which of these photos would best represent “before” and which “after”?

Small Mouth Sounds 2021 01 webSmall Mouth Sounds 2021 02 web

The retreat participants: Rodney (front row) and back row (from left to right) Jan, Judy, Joan, Ned and Alicia.

Would the idea of a silent meditation retreat in the woods fill you with joy or horror? Would you be more worried about confronting your own inner demons or potentially being trapped in the forest with a bunch of psychos? Well, if you were taking part, these are the thoughts that would be buzzing around the heads of your fellow participants on the night before the retreat. Who would you be most like, and who would you most like to avoid?

“This time something will change. I just know it. I’ll be able to get through to them. And that will help me deal with my own… circumstances. It will. No, this time it really will.” – the Teacher

“Looking forward to losing my ‘retreat virginity’, even though it feels weird and kind of scary. I’ve never really been into this spirituality stuff, but I’m hoping it will make me feel okay again.” – Alicia

“That last retreat I attended really helped me clear my mind and recharge. Here’s hoping that happens again, because I’m just too tired to deal with anything anymore.” – Joan

“Can’t wait to spend another five days of quality time with Joan! Gotta say I’m not really looking forward to yet another retreat, but Joan loves them and I wouldn’t want her to go with someone else.” – Judy

“Finally! Time for another retreat. Time to escape from this boring everyday shit and be Myself. And have people see the real ME. Even if it’s only for five fucking days.” – Rodney

“Kinda nervous about meeting Her, but boy do I need to feel some kind of spiritual connection with my fellow humans again – romantic or platonic or whatever – and in a place like this, anything could happen….” – Ned 

“Meditation? Why the hell did I sign up for meditation? Oh well, maybe it might end up doing me some good? It sure can’t be worse than that last thing I tried. I mean, what's the worst that could happen?” – Jan 

What indeed….?

Photos: Anni Taponen
Text: Zach Chamberlaine

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If you go out in the woods today…

As Small Mouth Sounds is set during a silent retreat in the woods, the team took a little excursion into nature to get into the spirit of things.

Although an outdoor rehearsal was initially planned, the weather was a bit too nippy, so the fun was confined to a photoshoot. The director's initial instructions for the shoot included the infamous line: "Mikael – dress warmly, but be prepared to be naked from the waist up. With beads."

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The six retreat participants are all set for five days in the woods without smartphones and small talk!

In fact, there had initially been a wild idea to have some performances in the woods – maybe out in the depths of Nuuksio – so the audience could pull up their camping stools, yoga mats or sleeping bags and watch the action unfold while pretending they were also silent participants on the retreat....

But that idea was unfortunately abandoned due to the vagaries of the Finnish weather. You never know what you're going to get in early October: over the past twenty years, we've seen everything from a balmy Indian summer to a couple of centimetres of snow.

So instead, we're inviting you to enjoy the play in the warm and drizzle-free atmosphere of the NoName Theatre. But as theatre audiences are expected to stay silent, you can still pretend you're on the retreat as well.

Small Mouth Sounds 2021 43 web
The Teacher – accompanied by the stage manager and director – all looking characteristically shady in their own way.

Photos: Anni Taponen

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