Editing Thematically – The Johnsons 1.16.16

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.
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Split Screen definition

Split Screen – To heighten a two-person scene, Player Three and Player Four initiate a new scene – on the same stage, but existing in separate physical spaces. For example, a scene about a married couple fretting over money can be heightened by a couple of mice fretting over cheese.

These two (or more) separate scenes can continue at the same time (usually on opposite sides of the stage), sharing focus back and forth.  While they do not exist in the same physical space, information from one scene affects the other as the focus shifts.

Or…    The original players can fade off stage as the second set of players establishes their scene, and this second set can fade off as the third set establishes their scene.  This is especially useful with smaller numbers of players in a group and can allow themes to heighten faster with subsequent iterations.

Split Screen

Mapping definition

Mapping Exploring an idea through the filter of another scenario’s language and objects. For example, player one is a businessman being bothered by player two, a salesman.  If in trying to get the salesman to leave him alone the businessman uses language that we all recognize from a “break-up scenario,” such as “it’s not you it’s me,” the scene will be infinitely more interesting.  If the salesman reacts to this break-up with the same emotion that any boyfriend or girlfriend would, then we really have a scene.

FXX’s “Man Seeking Woman” is a master class in Mapping.  It’s their thing!

Check out this clip where the idea of out-maturing your “bro” friends is mapped over the language and objects of a “surrendering your dog to a shelter” scenario –


Check out this one where the idea of your friend prioritizing a girlfriend is mapped over the language of a “military ritual of giving condolences for the dead” scenario –


Or how about this clip where the idea of making enough money to afford “good beer” is mapped over the language and objects of a “graduation” scenario.


Now, like Seinfeld, this carefully-scripted show gives us aspirations for improvisation but in improvisation we mustn’t hold ourselves to its standard.  Obviously the show’s use of cuts, props and cinematic tropes will always enable film to do mapping with less reliance on the articulation of juxtaposed scenarios.

In “Man Seeking Woman” just about every scene is a mapping scene and each show contains at least three mapped tropes (if not singularly devoted to one trope like the marvelous “Woman Seeking Man” of second season). Good luck to any improv group attempting that feat!

But the clips above provide guidance as to how an improv group – all educated on mapping and with ears tuned for mapping’s flags – can initiate mapping

A character takes on the characteristics of a caricature – as in the “Bro Shelter” clip. A character established as a “bro” starts exhibiting characteristics of a “dog.” And that move inspires the full-on mapping of a “Bro/Dawg Shelter.”  If we are quick to establish a strong character we can add a layer with mapping that strengthens the character and provides direction for heightening.

The caricatures from the mapped reality start talking about the details of another – more relatable – reality – as in the “Negotiator v Texter” clip.  The cops (never before seen on the show / new to the scene) in cop dialogue discuss the potentially explosive situation of a guy on the verge of sending a terrible text message.  If we see a theme we want to heighten, we can bring on new caricatures to approach the established idea from a new angle.

A character’s situation gains more emotional stakes from the weight of a mapped-on scenario – as in the “Graduated to Good Beer” clip. To cap off an episode wherein Josh struggles between pursuing a career and chasing his dreams, he embraces his day job’s paycheck as in what could have been complacence but becomes triumph when mapped onto a graduation ceremony.  If characters are engaged in an activity as benign as buying beer, a host of tertiary characters can endow the activity with more emotional resonance simply by having strong emotional reactions to the activity.

God, I love mapping.

Damn, I miss “Man Seeking Woman.”