In theatre, gibberish is a nonsensical
non-specific language, useful in a variety of training
exercises and improvisation
Spoken gibberish is a language. It has distinct words and grammar. It is formed by producing vowel sounds in the throat and then shaping the lips and teeth around them to produce consonants. This needs to be said as beginners often resist speaking at all when introduced to gibberish, instead pantomiming and grunting, or creating elaborate versions of charades.
Gibberish, as a technique, is not done to make the actors sound like idiots. Its use as an exercise in theatre is done to solve specific acting problems. Gibberish exercises teach you to focus on your scene partners, recognize subtext, and make physical offers. The Group Theatre would do scenes in gibberish to work on expressing emotion vocally independent of the words of a script. Improv gurus Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone each independently emphasized the removal of recognizable language as one tool to bring out these skills in actors. Improvisers must focus on and communicate non-linguistic cues, then, to move forward the action of the scene.
Some typical improv scenarios that use Gibberish:
- Gibberish translation. One actor gives a speech or recites a poem in gibberish. Another actor translates into English, or the language of the audience.
- Gibberish/English. A scene starts in English, but at a specified cue (such as a bell), all actors switch to speaking gibberish, but continue the exact same scene without stopping. The bell will ring multiple times-- each time cueing a switch to the other language.
- Gibberish Relay. One actor in the middle of two others must translate for both of them: each speaks a mutually unintelligible version of gibberish.
Improv troupes sometimes use gibberish games as a means to perform funny foreign accents (and accompanying ethnic or cultural stereotypes), which misses the point.