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To Speak or Not To Speak

Over the course of my playwriting career, I have marveled at the power of “nothing.” I relish with abandon all that is unspoken and unsaid—the glorious tension in a pinpoint of silence.

Original post from Substack newsletter: HOW TO PLAYWRIGHT by Audrey Cefaly

So perhaps it makes sense then that I’d be drawn to non-speaking roles. I admit, dear reader, somehow, they have found their way into many of my manuscripts—an offstage landlady in Fin & Euba, an onstage stage manager in The Last Wide Open, a fellow boater/angler in The Gulf, a dying goat in Alabaster, and now a “raven” in my newest play, Trouble. I did not do this on purpose! I mean, I sort of did—of course I did—but not really! These characters, not through some intentionality or forethought on my part, somehow made themselves at home along the way, arriving there to solve a problem. In fact, I distinctly remember telling both of the goats in my play Alabaster that they were intended to be played by puppets and to sit down and be quiet, but they wouldn’t have it! And on that day a 2-hander became a 2-hander/2-hoofer.

I said it.

But what makes a great non-speaking role, anyway? Must they add to the narrative? Must they push the story forward? How do we know when it makes sense to invent one? What are the rules? Here’s what works for me, in practical terms: