In the lead-up to the the Season 4 premiere of Mad Men, the On Demand menu from my television provider offered all prior episodes of the series, and I was playing catch up.
Unfortunately, with a day to go, I was just nearing the end of season two. When Betty Draper met Henry Francis for the first time in season three, I decided to cut to Wikipedia. The summaries there got me through most of that season, and I returned to my On Demand screen to watch the final episodes.
While I don’t think I missed a ton of plot, my edits altered the cadence; that is to say, they changed the pace and rhythm of the season. I glossed over a number of scenes, many of which might have been worth my time. In fact, had I switched to Wikipedia an episode earlier, I don’t think I would have appreciated one of main plotlines from the season as much. On the other hand, had I waited another episode or two, I might have grown invested in a subplot that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy properly.
As an improviser, I find myself dealing with the same tension and uncertainty when thinking about side support, but unlike television, I have the power to play a much bigger role in setting the pace and rhythm of a set. With a short phrase from the sideline, I can alter not only time but space; with a quick walk-on, I can adjust the focus of the players and direction of the scene; with an edit, I can change the scene. Each of these choices affects the overall cadence.
The challenge for me is finding the right balance and making sure that I’m in sync with my fellow players. Should a scene go on longer or is it done for now? Should part of a scene be skipped? I don’t have any great guidelines, but I have to trust that I’ve watched enough television in my lifetime to know when to press fast forward or simply change the channel.