Just ran across an interview with playwright Annie Baker (Body Awareness, Circle Mirrror Transformation) in the Boston Globe. Regarding her precise stage directions for awkward silences she notes:
“I’m interested in silence because I think it’s a huge unacknowledged part of our daily lives…And by silence I don’t mean portentous, Pinter-esque silence — although that can be great too — I just mean the absence of talk. It’s not actually silence I’m after so much as the things that we do when we’re not talking. Someone jiggling their knee. Someone staring into the sun for a full minute and humming. Someone flossing alone at night in their bathroom. All of this stuff is absent from most contemporary theater because people are so freaked out about holding the attention of an audience who would rather be at home watching action movies and sitcoms. But as an audience member, there’s something really exciting to me about watching someone scratch their elbow onstage and not say anything. Partly because a lot of audience members get weirdly uncomfortable and tense when that happens. I had no idea you could alienate people so much just by being quiet. Some audience members really start to freak out. And then other people love it. That’s really interesting to me — when half the audience is going crazy and half the audience is enthralled.
“How to put this? My plays are often about what happens when we’re not talking. I’m not interested in a bunch of people sitting in a living room talking really fast and being witty and yelling at each other — put that on TV, man. What can we do onstage? Movement. Silence. Stillness, then sudden movement. Interesting stage pictures. The living human organism in front of us, doing strange things.’’