The festival-talk got flying at Hell Yes Fest in New Orleans a few weeks ago and the discussion group turned its attention to a re-occurring conundrum: what to do about lame sweep edits? They take energy out of scenes by causing improvisers to “wait” to be edited. They look a bit silly. If the folks on the side miss one everyone feels sad. And, in general, they just don’t get anybody excited.
So what other options do we have? Recently folks in The New Movement have been playing with French Edits (editing by entering a scene/every entrance is an edit), Fluid Edits (the scene “morphs” into another scene rather than being “edited” in a traditional sense) and other permutations. But, nothing had really clicked on a grand scale. Then we got to talking about a level one class recital Katelyn and Skippy in Houston just had.
By lots of bad luck, Katelyn and Skippy were the only two improvisers from their class who were able to come to their level one recital. By lots of great fortune, they have fantastic chemistry and it was more fun to challenge them to do a short two person show than to combine them with improvisers from another class. Being impossibly brave, these two ladies agreed to do their first public improv set ever, as a duo. Right before they went up, Skippy turned to me and said “Wait, how do we edit?” Of course this was a simple question, if you’re in a two or three person group you have to self-edit. So I replied “Just look her in the eye and walk toward each other.” It was flawless. There was no confusion and their recital was a joy to watch.
So that is the new standard edit. In Houston our level one through five students have all been instructed in self-edits and they’ve replaced sweeps as the assumed way of transitioning from one scene to another. Among the major advantages of this development is an empowering of the improvisers on stage.
No longer waiting to be “saved” by their peers the improvisers in a scene must get used to feeling their shared highening path and finding their “out.” It also encourages students to think of their role in the scene as totally active: just as we encourage improvisers to begin a scene with confidence and authority, they can now always practice ending their scene in the same way.
I expected there to be some confusion about how to edit in this way or a tendancy for students to “bail” on scenes before they’d fully developed. That hasn’t been the case! Edits are still sometimes missed by the improvisers on stage but with less frequency than with sweeps and implementing the new system has been just as intuitive as the old reliance on the sweep edit ever was. However, there seem to be two principal drawbacks to self-editing all the time. The first is that there might be some confusion when playing with improvisers from other comunities where sweeps are the only accepted edit. I don’t think this is too much of a threat though, just like eliminating a standard sugestion, it is easy to understand this small diffrence and adapt to it. The second drawback is that sweeps have so long been a major part of our vocabulary that they’ve become esential in discribing other types of devices and the role of support work. It becomes increasingly important to stress the active listening and suportive roll of the on-sides performers when they’ll no longer be counted on to trot across the stage.
The end of the sweep edit’s dominance will be painless and fecund. As improvisers, starting at level one, learn how to feel the end of their own scenes they’ll no longer be intimidated by performing in smaller groups or taking ultimate responsibility for the pacing of their own scenes. Furthermore, self-edits seem to encourage a more focused attention on the piece as a whole. Improvisers who previously might have been thinking “When should I edit their scene?” appear to be increasingly engaged in listening, not for the end of the scene, but to its content. Therefore, they are more ready to tie together threads between scenes than to merely anticipate their end.
Sweeps are dead, long live the Self-Edit!