Harriet Walter, in her book Other People’s Shoes: Thoughts on Acting, describes an exercise in actors’ training which is designed to ‘break the language barrier and stretch one’s physical invention’.
Named Gibberish, it is:
the practice of substituting what was in the script with our own gobbledegook. The purpose was to release us from the constrictions of another person’s words, to bypass ‘meaning’ and send us straight to a creative source we might not know we had. With Gibberish we could burst our civilized seams and see what else was there. Who were we when released from the conditioning shackles of our hereditary patterns of speech?
At LAMDA [London Academy Of Music & Dramatic Art] we invented fabulous hybrid languages (mostly based on soundtracks from Swedish, Russian or Japanese movies) which broke the mould of our familiar accents and tones. We rediscovered the infantile pleasure in making noises and letting them reverberate to the ends of our toes.
But there came a moment when we wanted more. Gibberish had tapped a core energy, but because we could not really communicate we could not develop. We could get a rough idea across, but not the sophistications of a character’s mind. We might have loved someone and wanted to describe that love . . . but all we could say was ‘Grosh roobly broo.’ We grew as frustrated as two-year olds. We had refound the neeEED for words.
Walter’s report of how it allows actors to ‘burst’ their ‘civilized seams’ and escape their ‘conditioning shackles’ is telling. My post on films of linguistic interest includes the subversive French film Themroc (1973) in which everyone – inexplicably – speaks gibberish: no language, just garbled sounds that imitate it. The protagonist renounces society and regresses to a primitive, rebellious mode of living, prompting others to follow suit.
I can see how imposing such a constraint voluntarily and temporarily could help performers connect with a stranger’s script and its emotional content. Gesture often seems to be recruited or augmented to compensate for the lack of verbal precision. Further reports on this exercise, its variations and applications, can be found by searching Google Books for acting gibberish or some such phrase.
Oh, and I just remembered that Other People’s Shoes featured in a bookmash here a few months ago. Sometimes doing that bumps a book up the reading pile, even if it is just from it-could-be-years to it-may-be-months.