Before Talkies : The Voice of Gesture

Date of Award


Document Type

MSU-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


College of the Arts


Theatre and Dance

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Neil Baldwin

Committee Member

Kathleen Kelley

Committee Member

Claire Porter


Relative to comedy, gesture engenders a universal language by which audiences experience multiple facets of humor. Holding fast to the desire to share joy and lightness through dance, creating original work of a humorous nature, be it whimsical, farcical, clown like, or tongue-in-cheek, is at the core of my current artistic enterprise- setting my work apart from many of the mainstream dances being made today. I have investigated thoroughly the connections between gesture and humor: i.e., What is it about everyday movements that make us laugh? What are the standards we use to gauge the effectiveness of comedic movement? When do we “cross the line” from funny to grotesque to contemptible?

Throughout my MFA studies at Montclair State University, my previous expertise in dance theatre has become further informed and influenced by these investigations into humor. I am committed to continued creative development within the dance theatre genre, specifically the expressive nature of the form and its indelible link to the relationship between movement and meaning. These are the informing principals of my research. In my original silent film, Before Talkies, it is the communicative power of gesture that gives a voice to our heroine Lillian, her sidekick Jingles, the unlucky-in-love Oliver, and the no-name villain. In crafting four distinctive styles and impetuses for movement, I have a made a unique physical portrait for each of the archetypal individuals.


The performance video is restricted to the Montclair State University community but the PDF file of the thesis, which is located at the bottom of the screen, is available to anyone interested in reading it.

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