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It's known that to give the audience the impression of a lively talk in crowd scenes (as a background noise), actors mumble something. For example, in Russia - it's widely known here - they may reiterate the phrase which may be translated into English as "What we should say is that there's nothing to say" or something alike.

It goes without saying that something like this exists in the English language and is exploited by English-speaking actors, and I'd very much like to know what it is.

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    They say "We should not be asking this question on ELL." Some wear smiles, some, frowns.
    – TimR
    Sep 18, 2016 at 11:24
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    In my experience, the "background conversation" word in English theatre is "rhubarb" - said repeatedly: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/rhubarb_rhubarb Sep 18, 2016 at 13:14
  • While this isn't really the right forum for this question, it should be noted that movie extras are expected to converse silently; given a clean recording of the lead actors, a studio can adjust the amount of canned crowd noise to ensure that the lead dialogue can be heard clearly. If excessive crowd noise is present on the lead actors' recording, it may be necessary to re-record the dialogue in post-production.
    – supercat
    Sep 18, 2016 at 21:57

1 Answer 1

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Theatre folklore has it that you say "peas and carrots", and that's what a director will ask for: "Let's have a little more peas and carrots here, guys."

But that's more or less a traditional joke. In practise, actors improvise actual dialogue during rehearsal and develop private 'scenes' of their own which run concurrently with the scripted dialogue; this ensures that they remain in character and respond appropriately to the events around them, sustaining the desired illusion. If the company has a dramaturg she may be called on to polish this dialogue in the literary style of the script.

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    Ooh, I do like this expression. Another healthy variant is rhubarb, rhubarb
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 18, 2016 at 11:53
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    @Mari-LouA I think rhubarb is more common in the British theatre. I remember it showing up in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off in LIttlechap's political stump speech--"Mumbo jumbo, rhubarb rhubarb. Tickety-boo-barb yak yak yak". Sep 18, 2016 at 13:06
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    A common term in American radio, TV, and film production for this background noise is walla. Sep 18, 2016 at 20:07
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    Rhubarb, watermelon canteloupe, custard, peas and carrots. I've heard these for decades and wondered: why is it always food items? Is it to validate the starving thespian stereotype? Is it related to the frequency of food service as a day job? What? Sep 19, 2016 at 1:03
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    @P.E.Dant What's even more curious is the uniformly vegetable character of the menu. You'd think a starving artist would incorporate more steak and shrimp and caviar. Sep 19, 2016 at 2:04

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