I have become enamored of late with an HBO series, THE LEFTOVERS. It is based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta who also had a hand in this series. The story line revolves around the people of Mapleton, NY and how they cope with being ‘leftover’ after what many believe was The Rapture. Whether you believe in the reality, the possibility or not at all, the idea of The Rapture provides a striking backdrop for drama, magic and science fiction.
After a mere three seasons The Leftovers ended early June 2017. I have only scratched the surface of Season One. I am intrigued by the ‘Guilty Remnants’ – a fringe, cult-like guild dedicated to making sure no one forgets what happened that October 14th three years ago. We don’t know enough yet to completely understand their motives or state of mind. But we do know the group is made up of those who were left behind as well as members of families who went untouched. They wear all white, chain smoke, and rarely, if ever, speak. One of their most prominent members is ‘Laurie’. Seasoned actress, Amy Brenneman, plays her. By far one of the most intriguing and troubled characters on the show, Laurie leaves her family – who was completely untouched by October 14th – to join the GR. Most compelling for me, as a human and an artist, we have yet to hear her utter a single word.
Imagine that. Imagine never speaking. Yes, the GR carry pads and pens. But if you have ever suffered laryngitis, you know how impossible it is to keep up in even the briefest of conversations writing each response.
As a narrator of audiobooks… well, wow I wouldn’t be able to make a living!
Yet Amy Brenneman communicates fully with every nuance. I would imagine the temptation to overplay reactions would be difficult to avoid. Yet, Brenneman raises an eyebrow and the entire lifespan of a relationship is explained.
We know Amy Brenneman well. Her breakout role came in 1993 and continued for 24 episodes on NYPD Blue as ‘Det. Janice Licalsi’. Small screen viewers loved her as Judge Amy for 6 years. A guest star as ‘Dr. Violet Turner’ on Grey’s Anatomy spun into a regular on yet another 6-year series, Private Practice. If one examines Brenneman’s career she is a solid, working actress. There aren’t that many women of any age that can boast her resume.
I am interested in the depth of communication that can be discovered without words. As I’ve matured in my career, and limited as I am in the world of audio with sound alone on my paintbrush, I am moved more these days by subtlety. For Brenneman, in her silence on The Leftovers, we as viewers have no choice but to examine the tilt of a head, a smile, an inhale, an exhale. Hands. Shoulders. The angle of presentation – a willingness to face or to avoid. And it is fascinating. Just to watch her think, to observe her listening, the story’s meaning deepens because we are not handed the answer. We must search for it. We must decide.
I am reminded that in life itself the most poignant moments leave us speechless. That very often what one says and what one means have nothing to do with each other.
Communication is far more than words.
Silence as a tool in strictly audio work is a double-edged sword. Too much of it and I am pretty sure the listener will wonder if there is a problem with their download file or their mp3 player. Let’s substitute the word ‘pause’ for silence. I can also play with pitch, rate and volume – although somewhat less of the latter with the delicacy and precision of in-ear headphones. Breath is a world of opportunity. Sighs. Laughter. Audible ‘musing.’
More obviously, are the opportunities through dialect and age.
It’s a fine line. Many listeners prefer a neutral narrator. Many authors, too. That is definitely not my style. My acting background wants to come out and play.
My approach harkens from the days when my sisters read to me. Agatha Christie was our author of preference. Many was the night I would fall asleep curled up at the foot of my sister’s bed as she read chapter after chapter of those stunning tales. Her gift for the dramatic pause kept me spellbound. Her own thoughtful consideration, revealed in the tone of her reading voice as a plot twisted or a clue was uncovered, kept me on the edge of my twin bed.
The storytelling tradition continued as my son enjoyed a story or two every night before bed. Reading to him was one of my greatest pleasures. He was an excellent audience – a respectful and considerate listener. Sometimes he would ask for certain passages to be repeated. Or he would repeat the phrase or the dialogue himself. From the tone of his voice one could hear the wonder that suggested he had conjured a vision of the very same scene in his own mind. IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE , HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, and CARETAKERS OF WONDER were all read over and over until their pages were bent and soft. I have many of the books we shared still and I cherish them.
Now as a narrator I endeavor to hold my listener’s attention in the same way my sister held mine. I hope for them the same rapt attention my son had as the story unfolds. It enriches my work to watch the efforts of a good storyteller like Amy Brenneman. It is good to be reminded of all the tools I have at my fingertips, all the shades on my paint palette. So much more than words.
And the importance of truth. And of trust. My audience will understand.
As in life, the best choice is not always the obvious one.