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Thinking 'bout: Editing


“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” ― Stephen King

I don't think Stephen King was the first person to say that, but he gets top billing on the quote.

Today, I'm thinking 'bout editing. This is the final post in my series on Improv Knowledge. Click back there to catch up!

Edits in an improv set are where the skills of the Writer and the Director meet. Strong edits keep the audience wanting more; weak edits let what was once funny whither or overstay its welcome. In general, editing a scene earlier is the way to go. Really, I think this is a fundamentally human thing, too. I'm reminded of a Lake Street Dive song lyric: "it should have ended before it was over."

Editing: The Writer Side

In writing, you often have to cut the stuff you love to make the grander piece work. This means rewriting whole characters sometimes. Or, knowing when the audience doesn't need to know about your whole fantasy world, but just what's going to happen next to the hero. When writing, you should constantly be asking "so what?" I'd argue good improvisers need to ask the same question.

The Writing level of editing happens largely out of the view of the audience. These are the internal choices made by each member of a team of which choices to make and more importantly which choices to leave unsaid or save for later. When editing like a writer, you're assessing whether the scene needs what you would submit or not. The answer's often not, and that's ok.

This may sound fundamentally opposed to the age old improv advice "don't think." It's not. Inspired choices come from intuition and little personal design. "Write" those moments into your set. Forced choices come from what you think the audience will like, copying moves you saw another improviser do, or choices you think are "right." Don't "write" those moments into your set.

Seek out inspiration where ever you can find it in life. Learn what it feels like. Make a home near it. Seek to make "being inspired" muscle memory. That way, you can always answer the minute it knocks, and you won't even have to worry about the audience's "so what."

Editing: The Director Side

Writing, most of the time, is a solitary sport. Directing is anything but.

Directing is all about people and moments, so to edit like a director, you've got to understand both. Let's talk about people first.

Learn your troupe. There's at least one other improviser with you on stage at all times- make it your mission to see how they tick. What choices to they like to make? How can you serve them up to make more choices like that? How do they see the world? What's their default character? What do you love about playing with them?

Directors do exactly what their name implies: they direct. They don't correct. They don't change. They don't judge. When editing like a director for your troupe, your goal should be to create situations where your team can thrive. Set up scenes that will showcase their strengths, and sweep edit the struggle scenes quick. Let them play. Trust them. If they need a detail or a clarification, offer it as unassumingly as possible, and leave.

And this all applies to yourself, too. When a scene could use your particular talents, get out there! Just make sure everything you're doing serves moments before it serves you personally.

Moments. They're the lowest common denominator of all theater. They're what matter. The best edits happen on a "button," the perfect culmination of the funny being explored by your scene partners. Shoot for that. If it isn't coming, give it a little more time, as long as no one is struggling. If you missed it...bummer...but still edit that scene quick.

Edits: The Magic

Edits are the absolute embodiment of self control. When a whole team of about eight adults can exhibit the same brand of self control together, that's magical. That's why the key ingredient to many magical improv sets is editing.

But, it's tough. I just wrote a bunch of advice I haven't followed in tons of improv sets. That's the name of the game. Each of us are a mass of contradictions chasing something we love with a bunch of other masses of contradictions. Together, we're haphazardly casting our nets, fishing for inspiration. Editing is all about reading the signs and finding where the fish are biting.

So, I've been thinking about editing...


If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Group every Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!