In storytelling, we’re taught that silences seem longer when on stage because our job as storytellers is to fill that silence. We’re there to entertain, educate, enlighten, or at least tell. Silences are seen as a space of non-telling. Because without words, there is no story.
Silence is scary. Silence, in a group, is that moment when no one has anything to say, or is holding back on saying something. In a strange way, I grew up comfortable with silence. My father is a member of AA and has been for years, and I was taught at a young age to let the silences hang when someone is sharing at a meeting.
Silence is when we wait for the right words. We let our emotions wash over us. We gather our courage.
Silence isn’t bad. Silence is in fact good.
Silence gives audiences the time to digest a story. To view an image. To anticipate the next action.
Silence builds tension, or breaks it. Silence gives the audience a place to find themselves again.
Silence is part of story.
With my dementia groups at the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre, silences were not only good, they were necessary to get them to share. A moment of silence leads to someone wanting to fill the empty space, as long as they feel welcomed enough to do so.
I mentioned in a past blog that passive, stress-free workshopping worked best for them. I don’t disagree, but it’s my job to make sure that they still have space to take, when they’re in the right personal place to do so. Without those moments of silence, without waiting between stories, there wouldn’t be any sharing.
Because there’s comfort in sitting back and listening. It asks very little of us – only minimal engagement.
But, if I let the silence sit, they would often fill it. The best stories I got from them came from just giving them the space to tell them. To fill the silence as they saw fit, and as they felt like doing.
To give them that space, to give anyone that space to tell their stories, I learned that I first have to be comfortable with the silence, because I have to hold it. I have to make sure I don’t fill it until enough time has passed.
And then, it’s a matter of waiting to see who’ll fill it, either out of feeling welcomed, or out of cultural norms not to let silence win over a group. Either is fine with me – the silences existed to be filled.
We let the silence linger, and invite story into its midst. It worked more often than not.
Silence isn’t the enemy of story.
Silence is one of its strongest allies.
Visit Marie Bilodeau’s artist page for interviews and blogs about her arts project with the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre. Follow ArtPlace on Facebook and Twitter for updates about what our other 2016-2017 Art Place artists are doing.