A super-advanced move I love is called the transformational edit.
I first noticed it at the 2006 Chicago Improv Festival when a legendary group called FourSquare took the stage. The transformational edit essentially uses the same principle as that old improv standby game, Freeze (Tag).
In Freeze, two players do a scene. Someone outside the scene yells, “Freeze,” and tags out one of the two players, taking that person’s exact body position and starting an entirely new scene. A transformational edit is the same thing, but without someone yelling, “Freeze.” And often, the edit comes from the players within the scene, not an outside entity.
In a transformational edit, the body positions of people in a scene suggest a new scene. If we’re two thieves caught by the police and they tell us to lie down, we might lie on the stage and suddenly become different people who happen to be mattress shopping. You can see how this could easily go wrong.
Without a clear verbal break, you could be stuck in the limbo between scenes. A sweep edit lets the other players know you want to start a new scene. How can you communicate you want to start a new scene without a giant physical motion?
If we’re lying down and I want to use that physicality to start the mattress shopping scene, it’s my responsibility to use a very different voice from my thief character. I’ll need a different attitude. And I’ll need to communicate that clearly so my fellow thief knows we’re not thieves anymore. Initiating a new scene through a transformational edit requires a hard verbal break.
An example of this occurred during my performance with Panic Button at Hawaii’s Improvaganza Festival. In one scene, Scott Morehead played a butcher. I jumped up on a chair and portrayed a slab of beef hanging from a hook. In a later scene, I played a mother in a bathroom, standing on a toilet to hang herself. Peter Robards noticed how this looked similar to how I looked when I was that slab of beef. Peter made the choice to start talking to Scott as the butcher again. I slightly modified my posture to be more beef-like and the transformation was complete. The scene changed around us and we suddenly became different characters… or in my case, a bit of scenery.
Another example occurred in a ButchMAX rehearsal last night. In an earthquake scene, I jumped out to portray a falling china cabinet. I fell to the floor and lied there for the remainder of the scene. Mike Maltz tagged out everyone in the scene except me and he entered as someone coming into a doctor’s office for therapy. What a great gift! I’m now a therapist lying on the floor. What kind of therapist does that? I made myself a super laid-back, super dismissive guy. It made the scene much richer. And it’s all because Mike surveyed the situation and thought that me lying on the ground looked like it could be something else.
These edits typically work best in a small group. You’re changing one scene to another in midstream. It’s fun, but if you do it in a large group, you’re eating up two scenes in a row while your friends wait on the sidelines. Try performing with a cast of three or four people, watch for a physicality that seems like it could be something else, then initiate a new scene in that posture.
For even more bonus points, try editing back to that scene later when a new posture suggests the old scene.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com