6

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. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 18 '16 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 – Ronald Sole Sep 18 '16 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 '16 at 21:57
12

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 '16 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". – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 18 '16 at 13:06
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    A common term in American radio, TV, and film production for this background noise is walla. – Todd Wilcox Sep 18 '16 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? – P. E. Dant Sep 19 '16 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. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 19 '16 at 2:04

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