In a long-form improvisational performance that is not a “mono-scene” there is a need to be able to communicate that one scene is ending and another is beginning. An “Edit” is that move communicating a change in scenes. At its core, a “successful” edit need only clearly communicate that transition, but beyond that there are myriad ways to execute an edit. The most classic is a Sweep Edit wherein a player either from inside the scene or on the wings runs across players’ field of vision in a rush that says, “Get off stage; this scene’s over.” It doesn’t get much clearer than a Sweep Edit (unless you literally say, “Get off stage; this scene’s over”) and so this type of edit is typically the one taught to and learned by new improvisers as they focus on the much more critical elements of long-form performance. But as an improviser grows, it’s fun to grow the edits section of the toolbox as well.
Rather than sweep across the stage, a player entering stage from the wings with a bold initiation line that clearly is different (in subject, tone, etc.) from the current scene can also be used to alert improvisers of the desire to start a new scene. A player on stage engaged in the current scene can also execute this sweep-less edit, by simply breaking cleanly away from his or her current position, posture, character, etc.
In a Transformation Edit a player engaged in the current scene initiates a new scene by keeping their current physicality but changing the character and context. A couple engaged in a loving embrace transforms into battling Greco-Roman wrestlers. A player looking up at skyscrapers becomes a character looking up out of a well. Looking for a contact becomes acting like a dog. Etcetera.
This can be an especially fun edit to utilize with a team that wants all its players to stay on stage at the same time. No one is on or goes to the wings to edit so all edits are made necessarily by players on stage engaged in the current scene. When a scene reaches its edit point (e.g. big audience laugh), a player initiates a new scene that puts all players’ current physicality into a different context.
I did a three person show with David Johnson and Topher Bellavia in a three person show tournament with WIT (the Washington Improv Theater) that focused on utilizing Transformation Edits. Here’s a clip:
A few things help facilitate Transformation Edits:
- Two to Five person teams. If you have more, Transformation Edits can be stage-hog moves. If there are people on the wings, it’s probably best not to have players who remain on stage scene after scene.
- Mirroring /Physical Agreement. The more players engaged in Transformation Edits the more important this becomes. It’s easier for players to fall into a new context if they can follow their physicality rather than having to justify how their different physicality figures into the newly initiated context.
- PHYSICALITY. This is a no brainer. To transform through physicality you have to be physical. And so transformations vary it’s best if you keep moving throughout a scene. Start kneeling, stand up. Start standing, fall down. Make bold physical moves, which A) help foster audience reactions that justify the end of the current scene and B) provide dynamic starts to new scenes.
- Oscillate Energy. The Sweep Edit works because it makes it clear to all involved that scenes are transitioning. A Transformation Edit has to be as clear and it does not have a big physical change to rely on. So the change in context can be made more clear by focusing on changing tone. High energy scene into smaller energy scene. Sad scene into happy scene. Soft scene into loud scene. Etcetera.
- Focus Outward. You have to see and hear and focus in on your scene partners to catch their edits and to see what they’re doing to feed your edits.