The Energy of the Show

By troupe tradition, the last workshop taught to young improvisers before their debut performance was the art of show planning. As a newbie, I was skeptical. Show planning seemed simple enough, after all. Choose the formats, recruit the players, reserve the performance space, advertise, and let everything else take care of itself. In hind sight, I should have been tipped off by the number of senior improvisers who attended each year as a refresher.

Logistics were completely ignored, instead the workshop focused on the art of planning the energy of the show. When I improvise, my excitement and anticipation infuse me with the energy and drive to play and perform. The audience's emotions run so strong that, at times, their energy can be felt like waves of body heat. A good director, the workshop taught, plans to cultivate and maintain both player and audience energy into a feedback loop that feeds both groups and heightens the show.

I have found that plotting graphically allows me to more easily see the pacing and intensity profile of a plot in progress. I put intensity on the y-axis and time on the x-axis, and then draw out the shapes of the plot curves. The beginning of the story is the least intense, but begins to ramp up quickly.  The rate of build to the initiating action sets the pace for the rest of the book. As the rising action progresses, the intensity steadily climbs up until it peeks at the climax and then begins to descend during the dénouement. I then label specific points on the curve with intended plot points, my stakes between which I will string. This graphical approach makes it much easier for me to spot plot points that are out of order or that represent sudden jumps.

My experiences shows me that sudden shifts in intensity are disorienting to readers. As such, I’m very conscience of the pace that I set from the beginning, because once I start ramping tension, I never want to let it sag until after the climax. If I need a lengthy sequel, which may cause an intensity sag, I look for action or some ticking clock to set as a backdrop, to maintain the intensity and pacing. If I must accept the sag, I am sure to place an event that provides an additional boost closely afterwards, to return the story’s energy to where it should be.

Writing is a performance art projected over space and time, and so, when I hit my stride while writing, I feel that same excitement and tension. Writers, like improvisers, are constantly manipulating their readers, building and using sympathy to ramp up tension. I think of energy, in this case, as the emotional involvement that drives me to put off sleep to read, or write, just one more page, regardless of the time I have to go to work.


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