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Janna Lindstrom and Conor Geogheghan in a recent CTPI workshop

I feel that theatre generally lives far too often in the realm of the materialist and the obvious; either that or it wallows in elitist performance art which says nothing , is riven with cliches and driven by obscure intellectual concepts. ( I watched a supreme example of this in the Tate Modern recently). And before anyone starts to write furiously, I know all performance art is not like that but some of it is.

So what do I mean when I talk about the Invisible? Is this just so much pretension? Definitely not.

Michael Chekhov called it , ‘the Intangible’. It’s like something just beyond reach, and yet ironically the ‘intangible’ is around us all the time.

In these next three blog posts , I am going to touch on what ‘the Invisible’ might mean in rehearsal and performance. In this post we are going to take the space in the text called a Pause.

What is a Pause?  We can feel it and experience it, but we cannot see it. It is invisible. But a pause is not nothing. Something is always happening in a pause, and it is not an empty space. Michael Chekhov said there was no such thing as a dead pause;

We know this movement of energy exists because we experience it every day of our lives when we pause. Actors who work more intellectually might consider ‘well, in this pause, I need to think this, this, and this’, but this thinking does not produce emotional authenticity.

“The main characteristic of a true pause is a moment of Absolute Radiation.” Michael Chekhov. On the Technique of Acting .

So a pause is a place of great movement; of energy, fullness, searching, decision and weight. It might be a place where we protect ourselves with silence or close in despair. It can be a place where we attack and send our energy to meet our partner, hungry for a response. It can be a moment where we express our love.

We need to understand the energy of the pause, to inhabit it and how to use it, to fully explore how a character might be behaving. And, importantly, to not be afraid of it. So many actors are afraid to pause, as if by stopping speaking they will somehow disappear.

A couple of years ago I was working on a student production of YERMA by Lorca. We were working on the scene where Yerma, a young woman, now truly desperate to have a child, meets her friend Maria who has two children. Maria tries to pass Yerma’s house and avoid coming in but Yerma sees her and forces her friend to come in. In a deeply painful scene reminiscent of a difficult visit to a sick relative, Maria tries to comfort her bitter friend and then, finally exasperated, Maria blurts out ” why can’t you just accept Gods will?” YERMA looks at her and then says ‘accept God’s will?” Maria makes for the door and then there is a painful moment where Yerma says ” you have the same eyes as your baby. He has exactly the same eyes as you.” Maria says goodbye and leaves.

I always start our initial exploration of any scene, lines already learned by the way, with radiating and receiving as the two actors speak their lines to each other giving and receiving energy from their scene partner, speaking quietly and with intention, and giving plenty of space between speeches. It is that time between speeches which is the most important as you get a real sense of what the other person is ‘sending out’ and how that makes you feel. You then get a sense of where the pauses might lie because you find out what is really going on. This is not just ‘listening’ (though it is that as well) but something much greater.

In the scene between Maria and Yerma, the actors by this process found several moments which were so painful and true that it had the three of us in tears. After Maria’s ‘why can’t you just accept God’s will’ the long pause was electric as Maria realised she had been almost forced into saying the one thing which would alienate her from her friend forever. At Yerma’s “accept God’s will?” I asked the actor playing Maria to receive the energy from Yerma in a pause and to move only when she couldn’t stand it anymore. As she bolted for the door, Yerma ran after her and grabbed her arm. She let Maria go and looked at her pleading, desperate and alone, and said the line about the baby’s eyes. There was a pause where Maria suddenly hardened and said “Goodbye”. What we realised with this unearthing of the invisible was that at this point in the story, Maria is saying Goodbye not just for today but for the rest of their lives; that she can no longer take anymore and they cannot have the friendship they had; that Yerma is alone. Importantly we found this without much discussion but by exploring the invisible. It was complex and unbelievably moving.

This issue of energy and the pause is one of the areas I want to explore in Expressing The Invisible, the course at NUI Galway that I am running , August 18-21. THe cost of this 3 and 1/2 day workshop is 180 euro / 150 euro concessions. There are only a few places left. Email for further details.



  1. Tony Hegarty

    I think I mentioned before, when I witnessed one of your NUIG presentations of The Three Sisters, that this “pause” phenomena reminded me of the pre-concsious activity in the brain which precedes a thought, word or action: it is a neuroscientific fact but it is invisible in the sense of not having a bodily correlative (as T.S. Eliot says of Hamlet). It is almost as though our biological structures facilitate it. And yet in supreme moments of highly charged emotion (commonly called “poetic”) we sense it, using a non intellectual receptivity we didn’t even know we had (that’s why TSE is shortsighted in his criticism of Hamlet) . Shoud be a great workshop!

    1. Tony Hegarty

      I am sorry if the above reference to Eliot is unclear or obscure: the essay in question can be read at . The paragraph beginning:
      “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”
      Wonderful essay in spite of the fact I think he is “shortsighted” in this regard; the fact, is Hamlet is not a total failure as a play so the criticism does not quite hold.

  2. Mel Shrawder


    Thoroughly enjoyed your article. The intangible aspect of the Chekhov work is my favorite concept in the methodology. Highlighting the pause, energy and the intangible sounds like a wonderfully appealing workshop. Your Yerma example is lovely and rich.

    I wonder if you ever posited to them that after allowing the energy to run its course in the scene, the possibility that maybe something different might be received in the pause (of course not knowing what it might be, but found in the moment), or possibly even something polar as an exploration. Max, keep up the good fight in expanding every element of the method.

    1. maxhafler Post author

      Lovely to hear from you. No I haven’t tried that, but i will. That is of course what happens so often in life in life. An energised pause becomes kind of exhausted or changes direction…. I remember very well those sessions you led at MICHA that I was in. Thank you. They were great.

      1. Mel Shrawder

        Thanks. Wish I could attend. Should be a great workshop.

        There’s a wonderful quote of the Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise who stated, “You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts.”

        Be well Max, quite an impressive blog you’ve got going. Later.

  3. Tony Hegarty

    Some thoughts on archetypal “pauses” in literature:

    “Now they stand chin-deep in the sway of ocean,
    Firm West, two stringy bodies face to face,
    And come, together, in the water’s motion,
    The full caught pause of their embrace.” (The Discovery of the Pacific, T.G.)

    “Peace upon earth, the breathless calm
    That lulls the long-tormented deep,
    Rest to the winds, and that sweet balm
    And solace of our nature sleep.” (Plato: Symposium)

    Or as Shelley translated the above:
    “The restless silence of storms”

    Just thought that the “pause” is almost archetypal!


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