So, let’s talk for a moment about Time.
It truly is of the essence, in every respect.
When putting an experience together, be it theatrical, spectacle, industrial or guerrilla, ‘tis important to remember that every moment communicates something. The key is to be sure that each and every moment that occurs between curtain up and end of show communicates what you want it to communicate.
When crafting an Experience, it is critical to be aware not only of the overall timing of each scene or component, but also the silences, the quiet, the transitions in-between action as well as each Scene and Act. As most creatives are aware; the space between successive speeches in a script can compellingly communicate mood, dynamic and tone; giving a sense of subtext and backstory, nuance.
Nuance. Makes or breaks an Experience.
My mantra in this context is, “No Dead Air.” Every moment is planned and foreseen.
Never make an audience wait; rather, make them anticipate. The difference is key; to wait is to be distracted, to leave the story arc or narrative, to exit the experience and wonder What and When… To anticipate, though, is about reaching for what’s next, being engaged, mentally percolating possibility and virtually reaching out to grasp The Next Thing…
Use any silence to communicate something; tension, time passing, surprise. Let nothing “just take as long as it takes;” rather, write the pauses and transitions into your show or Experience. Pay close attention to the pacing, then assiduously keep the integrity of that pace or rhythm. This sometimes means covering something as basic as a scene change with a voice-over, activity in another part of the space or even something as simple and basic as a lighting or sound effect. It’s gotta make sense, and it has to fit.
As Creators, we need to remain wary of what we might be accepting. Of course the set & scene needs to change; it may not, though, have to stop the action or impede the storytelling in order to do so…
Another facet of Time and Timing is Restraint. Holding back.
A major part of what I do is create and direct Ceremonies; sports, awards, acknowledgement, recognition. In this context, an historical parallel or ancestor might be the old-fashioned Variety Show, enhanced and augmented with a theme and through-line and purpose beyond simply entertaining.
The parallel that is reflected in these ceremonies is the “parade” of what is often a succession of talented individuals or small groups acknowledging or paying tribute to a person or institution through their talent.
Don’t allow the Talent to ru(i)n the show.
These people will always want to do more than might be envisioned, showcase themselves such that it may detract from the power of the overall Experience. F’rinstance, the Divas’ll want to do at least two numbers, the monologuists will want 5 – 7 minutes, the dancers’ll want to showcase their every signature move. As much as we may love each and every piece that is pitched to perform: we do NOT put them all onstage.
The Talent often sees only the individual contribution (Bless Their Hearts!), often giving lip service to the importance of timing in the overall production; but in their heart of hearts pretty much considering themselves the centerpiece.
This is where the person in charge of creation – the Producer, the Director, the Creative Director – must be brutally judicious. I learned, early on, that keeping segments almost uncomfortably short was more often than not a good barometer for the reception by the audience; that it was the right move and created the best overall effect. For, once a piece or segment has gone on, too long, it is virtually impossible to resurrect the energy that may have been lost.
Pick and hold to one song; keep the dance number short, minimize the monologues and speeches. So much can be communicated in a very short time and, in a marginal concession to the world in which we live, we need to create experiences that reach out and repeatedly capture and recapture attention.
Something else; don’t pack your show. One might have at one’s behest a number of powerful performers or speeches. Two, short and powerful speeches or Moments can be like a one-two punch: powerful, communicative, effective. Add just one more “short and powerful” speech and all three can immediately become, effectively, too long; losing the energy and losing your audience.
The cumulative power of the first two can very readily be completely dissipated by a third, and the sum total can take the energy out of your show.
Not everyone who “needs” to speak needs to speak. Be strong.
So, I’m saying, this week, Hold the Line on length, on transitions, on quietness; give people enough to engage them, not sate them.
Next week, we’ll talk about the inverse relationship between magnitude and effect, and the myriad interpretations of “magnitude.”