Unspoken (Pauline Benner)

paulineAbout the author: Pauline Benner is a professional musician who plays oboe and English Horn with The Symphony of the Lakes in Warsaw, IN, and The Lima Symphony Orchestra in Lima, OH. She also plays woodwinds in the orchestra at The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and the IPFW Theatre in Fort Wayne, IN, as well as The Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw, IN. In addition, Pauline is the worship leader at Community Christian Reformed Church in Fort Wayne, and a singer/songwriter. She released her first independent album of all original songs Words of the Mute in 2011.For most of her life, Pauline has had a moderate to severe stutter and Tourette’s Syndrome. Many of the situations and dialogue in Unspoken are based on true events that she has experienced in her life as a person who stutters.

Pauline lives in Fort Wayne, IN, with her husband, Brad, and their two children, Jack and Anya.

Unspoken – A Play About Stuttering (Plot Summary)

It’s May, 1999. Peter, Matt, Sarah and Amanda have just graduated from college. When Matt asks Peter about his future plans, Peter confidently replies that he will get a high paying job, and marry his girlfriend, Amanda. Then Peter sits down, and an exact replica of himself enters the room. It turns out that it was not Peter speaking before, but Internal Peter – Peter’s inner voice. This time Peter answers the question. He stutters very badly, and gives only short, insecure answers.

A few days later, Peter is at a job interview at Jefferson Investments. Internal Peter takes the interview first, and gives very articulate answers. He is offered the job, and is able to negotiate his starting salary even higher. When Peter takes the interview, he stutters so severely that he is not even able to correct the interviewer when he mispronounces Peter’s last name.

A few days later, Peter is offered a minimum wage job at a coffee shop. He is disappointed with the salary, but takes the job. That evening Peter reveals to Amanda his frustrations over his stutter. She listens, but seems distracted. Internal Peter berates Peter for revealing his weakness to Amanda. He tells him that she will never fall in love with him until he learns to speak fluently. A few weeks later, Peter’s confidence is built up when he is promoted to assistant manager at the coffee shop.

That evening, Internal Peter is rehearsing his marriage proposal to Amanda. He gives a beautiful, eloquent speech. When Amanda arrives, Peter begins into his rehearsed speech, but he is stuttering very badly. Before he can propose, Amanda interrupts him. She confesses that she is embarrassed by his stutter, and abruptly leaves. Peter is stunned and heartbroken.

Three months later, Peter runs into Sarah at the coffee shop, and she invites him to come over to her new apartment to hang out. The next weekend, Sarah flirts with Peter, and they realize that they share an appreciation for science fiction.

The next day, Peter calls Sarah to ask her out. He stutters horribly on the phone, but she agrees to go on a date with him.

Six months later, Sarah and Peter are dating seriously. Sarah tells Peter that she thinks he should apply for a job at Jefferson Investments. He tells her that he can’t because of his stutter. When she continues to encourage him to apply for the job, Internal Peter tells Peter that his stutter is all that anyone can see when they look at him. Then Sarah tells Peter that she is in love with him. Peter begins to respond, but stops when his stutter overwhelms him, and he cannot speak at all. Then Sarah asks Peter to marry her, and Internal Peter is finally silenced and defeated.

Some background from the author

What prompted this play to be written?

Every year the community theater in my city holds a playwright festival where they have a contest for local original plays. I wrote this script and submitted it to the contest in 2015.

It occurred to me that stutterers are hugely underrepresented in theater, television and movies. Usually, they are merely a minor character who is meant simply to be the comic relief, or the butt of an ongoing joke. I am grateful in recent years for movies such as The King’s Speech which portray stutterers as more complex characters, but I still feel as though there is no representation for what we experience internally. Even my husband, who has known me very intimately for many years, did not realize that inside my head, my internal voice is fluent. I thought that the stage would be a great place to watch the contrast between the stutterer’s internal fluent voice, and his external stuttering voice.

Also, the play is very autobiographical. I have experienced many of the situations in the play, and some of the dialogue is virtually verbatim from my personal experiences. In 2015, when I began writing the play, I was going through a time when I was finally beginning to realize that I had falsely believed for many years that my stutter was what was holding me back from finding success in life. I finally began to realize that this was not true; I needed to accept myself, and stop waiting for my stutter to be cured, in order to achieve what I wanted in life. I thought it would be interesting to make my internal conversation as I went through this realization the conflict between antagonist and protagonist.

I also hoped that this play would be inspirational for other stutterers who are struggling to find acceptance or success. And really for anyone who feels that a flaw, a disability, or even just low self-confidence is holding them back.

Has the play been published or performed?

It has never been published or performed.

 

Who can perform this play, how can they obtain the full script and what acknowledgements are required?

The full script is provided at this link for use by anyone.  If someone would like to use or produce the play, I ask that I be acknowledged as the playwright. Also, if someone is planning to produce and perform it on stage, I would like to be notified so that I can advertise it and come see the performance.

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Comments

Unspoken (Pauline Benner) — 21 Comments

  1. Very interesting perspective. Never really think about what goes on in someone else’s head. I have always admired your tenacity when speaking in front of people.

  2. Hi Pauline – what a great piece. I would love to see it performed. How come you never brought it to production? I have a moderate stutter and have come to terms with it slowly over the past 10 years, while also going from covert to overt. It’s become easier to co-exist with my stutter as I’ve gotten older. It’s been quite the journey though!
    And I too have a fluent internal voice. I never really considered this until reading your piece.

    I work in a high school and we have a visual and performing arts program for high school seniors. They are required to produce a play. I’m tempted to take this to the teacher but I’d be worried that a teenager who doesn’t stutter wouldn’t get the stuttering right.

    Who would you like to see perform this play? A community theater troupe? College?

    Thanks so much for sharing this! -Pam

    • Hi Pam. Thanks so much! The truth is I’ve never brought it to production, because I’m not really sure how to. This is the first thing I’ve written. I would love to see it performed by anyone. It could make an interesting assignment for a high school actor. They would need to do some research by spending time with a stutterer or watching videos. Also, I have been very specific in the script about which words he should become completely blocked on and how to stuffer in certain words. Thanks for your feedback. I hope that helps!

  3. This would be such a great play to see!

    I am a first year grad student studying communication disorders. I believe that in this world it is important for all of our peers to be exposed to communication disorders and the emotional effects they have on people. Just like in the story line, the more someone knows, the more likely they will be able to be a positive impact on someone’s life. This same story line may be able to apply to disorders of all types.

    I think you have written a great piece, and would love to see it someday. Thank you for sharing!
    Caitlin

  4. Hello Mrs. Benner,
    I loved reading your piece. As a person with a brother who stutters, I would have never thought that his internal voice would be different from his speech…but it makes sense! I love the idea of the internal Peter having a significant role in this script!

    I see that you have not performed this play, even though the community theatre offers an open call.

    I was just wondering: (1) did your play make the finals in the 2015 contest or (2) do you plan to edit and resubmit?

    Thank you!
    Anna

    • Hi Anna:
      As far as I know, it did not make the finals. There were hundreds of submissions, and only the top 4 were notified. My script was not one of them. Unfortunately, I can only submit this script once to the contest. I am looking into other avenues where I may be able to submit it in the future. Thank you so much for your input!

  5. Mrs. Benner,

    Thank you for sharing this piece. I found it to be heartbreaking, but beautiful in the end. I am also happy that you have come to a place where you have defeated the doubt in your life and are now a more confident person. Your play was written last year. Have you stuttered your whole life and just recently seen yourself in new light? Or have you been free from insecurities of stuttering for a while and only recently decided to write the piece?

    Thank you for sharing!

    Brittany

    • Hi Brittany:
      Thank you so much for your comment. I have stuttered for most of my life – since I was 7 years old. About 9 years ago, someone that I respected and believed to be my friend told me that I could not be a worship leader because I stuttered. This was the turning point where I finally realized that this was the very lie that I had been telling myself my whole life – that there were things I simply could never do because of my stutter. It was like a switch flipped when I realized he was wrong, and I was wrong for telling myself this same lie for so long. The past 9 years since then have been a journey of discovering my new self who is confident in my stutter. It has taken many supportive friends, and a good therapist to help me though this journey. Also, in 2015 I took a public speaking class and eventually joined Toastmasters. This has also been a huge turning point in learning how to be confident, and to stop trying to “defeat” stutter. Instead, I have learned that I need to defeat the lies of self-doubt inside my head.

  6. Hello,

    I am a second year graduate student working towards my master’s in speech language pathology. I found this play very eye-opening and inspiring. This year in one of my courses we watched a video about this being the case, where the individual was fluent in his head, but then spoken with several disfluencies. Have you ever thought about going in to the schools and sharing this play? Or sharing it within a support group? I think it is important for others to gain a better understanding of what is going on within that may be a trigger for the actual production.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Hi Pauline – I am a first year graduate student studying to become a speech language pathologist. This plot summary really allowed me, as the reader, to see inside the thoughts/feelings of a person who stutters. It is inspiring to know what you have come to a place in your life where you have realized that stuttering cannot hold you back any longer. I hope that this inspires others to think in the same way. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Alyssa:
      Just curious: did you read the whole script, or just the plot summary? You will get a much deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings of a stutterer if you read the whole script. The plot summary really doesn’t do it justice. It’s 51 pages, and takes about 30 minutes to read.

  8. Mrs. Benner
    I am currently a second year graduate student going for my masters in speech language pathology. Reading this plot summary enabled me to put myself in “Peters” shoes, and gave me a clear perspective on what a person with a stutter may be experiencing emotionally. What I really enjoy about this plot, is it shows that a stutter should not define a person. Rather, a person with a stutter should continue to strive for the best, and should never hold back.

  9. Great post! I am a first year graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology and currently taking a fluency course right now. I love the perspective of the internal voice. This could be a great illustration of the perspective of stuttering to an individual not in our field and could also be a valuable tool to use with people who stutter. To me, it is imperative to be empathetic as a clinician. If this is how a client who stutters perceives himself or herself, could be a gateway to a new connection in therapy.

  10. Mrs. Benner,

    I loved reading about the play that you wrote. I am a first year graduate student studying Speech Language Pathology, and I think it is really interesting how you compare the internal and external voices of a person who stutters. In our fluency class, we are learning about the stuttering behaviors that clinicians can observe and those that we cannot observe. Reading about it from this point of view helps me understand what people who stutter experience on a day-to-day basis.

    Thanks again for sharing!
    Sarah

  11. Hi Mrs. Benner,

    Thank you so much for devoting the time and effort into writing this play. I am a first year graduate student studying Speech Language Pathology and it has really opened my eyes and my heart to some insight on how a PWS may feel internally. I have not thought about how a PWS hears themselves internally. This perspective is so intriguing to me, as I am highly interested in understanding stuttering and therapy on a more intimate and personal level. I have never had a stutter, but when I am in an extreme emotional state, my fluency decreases. However, in my head, I am still speaking fluently. I have never thought about this contrast before. I love the idea you have captured so eloquently in this play and how it is depicted. Would you feel comfortable with a fluency class looking at your play and potentially acting it out in a team based activity in order to better understand stuttering?

    Thank you again for sharing,
    Casey

    • Hi Casey:
      Thank you so much for your comment. Yes! Please feel free to use the script in any way that you think it may help people (especially SLP’s) to better understand stuttering.

  12. Hello Mrs. Brenner,

    Thank you so much for sharing your art with us. Wow, this is so powerful! I would love to see this come to production. It takes a lot of bravery to share painful personal experiences; thank you for being brave! I love the idea that the protagonist and antagonist are they same person. This play demonstrates the disparity between the fluent internal voice and “disfluent” spoken voice. It is so valuable that Peter learns that fluency is simply subjective and means something different to everybody. I love that he learns that stuttering can be a beautiful gift in many ways and does not have to hold you back in life!

    Thank you for such a thoughtful contribution. It is truly appreciated!

    Shannon Schield

  13. Hello Mrs. Brenner,

    This was an incredible story. I will tell you at first I felt that Peter wanted to be Internal Peter and that this is really who he was, only thwarted by the stutter. I could feel his longing for success and the simplicity in achieving his goals that he feels inside, but cannot achieve. In the end, I felt a great triumph in Peter, the person who stutters, not Internal Peter. I think this is such a strong and incredible point to share that, people who stutter are who they are. They shouldn’t go through life thinking they are fighting against a “better” alter-ego, but rather embrace all that they are capable of. I think this story goes well with the quote, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind.”
    I am a current graduate student, and hope to bring the message from this passage to future clients. I feel that you are saying to take pride in who you are, and find those who are proud and love you for who who are. I hope to help clients resolve this inner conflict and strive for the success they are capable and deserve. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and message.

    Best Wishes,

    Carly

  14. Hi Pauline,
    Thank you so much for sharing a summary of your piece! I really loved that stuttering was represented by two Pauls. The artistic liberty you took in representing stuttering this way really made stuttering relatable to me, as a person who doesn’t stutter. In many ways, I think we all have two dialogues: our inner thoughts and feelings, and our voice. For anyone who has ever struggled with a negative inner voice that has undermined their abilities, we read your plot and think, “I’ve been there.” Isn’t that the beauty of art? 🙂

    I read in the introduction that this play was inspired by your own experiences. As a person who stutters, what effects can a positive inner voice have on shaping, not only fluency, but also positive outcomes in life?

    Thank you again,
    Jessie

  15. I’m truly impressed by both the project idea and the amazing ways of expressing what’s behind the stuttered speech. I know the German stuttering association works a lot with theater and song, but I wish we all did, as it’s such a great way to face and deal with stuttering.

    I too am a musician and a PWS and hope to release a book with poems about stuttering one day.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration. So wish I could inspire stuttering NSAs in Europe to use the script and perform the play.

    Keep talking,
    Anita Blom