The Johnsons have been working on building a more collective world in their long form performances.
One tool they’ve practiced is using their scene edits to establish and heighten an organic pattern progression.
And on January 16th, 2016 they did it on stage for the first time. Watch. Enjoy.
First time is random. Second time is purposeful. Third time is expected.
The first time Scott Beckett walks across stage singing a song, it’s random. Listen to the audience – they’re not sure what is happening. All the other edits they’ve watched that night (Johnsons are closing a set of three groups) were sweeps. Is Scott entering the scene as a third player? The audience doesn’t know. But Lauren Serpa knows it’s an edit and she enters to start the next scene.
Listen to the audience when Scott edits the second scene with another song. That’s the sound of recognition. They “get it.” What’s more, now they’re excited for the end of the third scene. In fact, I was sitting in the audience and at that moment another audience member turned to her companion and whispered, “Oh, man, what’s the third song going to be?”
And when that third song does come? When Jessi Schmale cuts across the scene in the doomsday bunker with “It’s the end of the world as we know it”? The audience loves it. The pattern progression has made them, not just passive observers of the show, but active participants in its construction. Pattern work rewards the audience for being engaged.
So using edits in this way tightens up the show and wraps up the audience in the packaging.
The Johnsons don’t stop after three edits; they keep up with the song edits throughout the show.
Playing pattern progressions with edits doesn’t have to be heady or verbal.
Scott chose to do a song, but what if, instead of going from the first scene’s reference of birds to “Free Bird,” Scott ran across the stage making the classic bird shape with his hands? After the second scene, we could do another animal edit OR we could just do more birds. First time it’s just Scott, second time there are three players doing the bird edit, third time there’s a whole flock.
Who noticed that both of the first two songs were Lynard Skynyrd songs? If you did, maybe you were disappointed that the third song was by REM, but I bet you didn’t even notice.
Don’t let overthinking keep you from employing and enjoying this tool. Not using your edits to set up a collective language for the show won’t make for a worse show; simple sweep edits are an accepted convention. But establishing and heightening a pattern progression with your scene edits is just one more polish move we can utilize in elevating our play to the next level.
The Johnsons are: Scott Beckett, Shawn Hambright, Townsend Hart, John Hilowitz, Joe Mack, Jonathan Nelson, Jessi Schmale, Lauren Serpa and Alan Vollmer.
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