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THE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE BODY / 2011

If I don't write this down, I'll have to remember it word for word. And the reason I was never an actor is because I could never learn my lines. For similar reasons, in this instance a decision was made to pre-record my voice reciting the words I had written. This is the voice you are hearing now. Unless you were to be reading this at a later date, in which case, the words on paper (or screen) may be accompanied by the silent voice of the disembodied narrator we all supposedly carry inside our heads, a voice that strangely can never be absolutely pinned down in terms of tone, timbre or expression. But it was a voice I have always been acutely aware of, paradoxically because I'm not entirely sure what it sounds like. I think it might be deeper than the voice you are hearing now though.

And as a child, I would open my mouth, and expect the words I heard inside my head to some how metamorphose into sound upon contact with light and air. Perhaps it was because of this tendency, that the only significant role I have ever had in a character based stage production was playing the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a school pageant at about the age of nine years old. Of course, a pageant is not a proper school play, and these events were always more to do with procession and elaborate costume rather than virtuoso acting skill. The important thing to bear in mind however, is that because of the acoustic challenges of performing outdoors, it was arranged that all voices would be recorded onto tape in advance of the show, and played back through a series of loudspeakers arranged around the audience. These were mainly monologues, exposition very much directed to, and for the gathering. Now although my character had been recorded making a somewhat declamatory speech, I was told not to mime, not to mouth the actual recorded words. In fact using my mouth at all was discouraged, but rather, it was suggested that I pose, with a series of stylised gestures that bore some kind of relation to the recorded oration. An outstretched palm here, a clenched fist there. All the audience needed to do was to make the connection between my gestures and a series of words battered out of shape by the increasingly vicious prevailing winds.

This was my (partially obliterated) voice, 'spoken' by lips that were not moving. It is said that there is a moment in every ventriloquists routine that involves stumbling into a similarly a perceptual grey area - part of the ventriloquists brain is playing the part of the dummy, and another part of the brain is 'being' the ventriloquist. And apparently, every professional ventriloquist will experience a moment – especially when on some kind of improvisational roll - when the dummy will say something that the ventriloquist doesn't recognise. Something the ventriloquist hasn't heard before. Of course, he can laugh and react with the same sort of genuine surprise as the audience has, but something of an uncanny after taste remains.

So, as I continued to gesture, to allude to the connectedness of voice emanating from the speaker and my bodily presence, I distinctly remember undergoing some kind of miniature crisis of cognition, or in actors speak, motivation. Perhaps it was the fact that the slight reverb on the voice I heard coming from the speakers seemed suggestive of the echo of words bouncing on the inside of a skull - but all of a sudden, it struck me that what I was doing didn't represent the intended outward expression. My lips weren't moving. So I can't be speaking. But I can hear my voice. So I must be speaking. But my lips aren't moving. But I can hear my voice. As can the audience. Does this mean I'm thinking? If I am, the audience really shouldn't be able to hear that – I don't want them to - even if they were the words of a character and not me. Its hard to articulate the level of discombobulation I experienced. Maybe it lasted for just a split second, but by the culmination of my performance, my punctuative bodily gestures had collapsed inwards into a series of 'thoughtful' facial expressions, (bewildered at best, gormless at worst) with the speech (to me) becoming the voice of an internalised narrator who slipped out through a gap in my lips and was now outside of my body. So here I stood, reduced to acting out the act of thinking – I think. Thinking I would like the tape to finish so I could leave the stage. I did. And some of the parents applauded.