Lights fade. Blackout. Crossfade. Are these the only tools the playwright has to control the transitions between scenes?
I am obsessed with scene transitions. I can't tell you the number of live theater experiences I've had that have been tarnished by poor scene transitions. If hedge funds exist to exploit market inefficiencies, then I'm the hedge fund manager of scene transitions. Is that a tortured comparison? You bet it is. But its very awfulness should at least lodge this in your memory: we are losing valuable time to communicate meaning to our audience through inefficient scene transitions.
A well-executed professional production will at least minimize the time between scenes. In a large stage with multiple playing areas, the transition is often an eye-blink. But I believe that the way we move from one scene to another helps create meaning, and we're not using that to its fullest potential.
The problem, I think, lies in the very conventions of presenting plays on the page. Too often we simply write:
And we have faith that a director and design team is going to handle that white space between Hector's exit and the top of scene three.
I fully support theater as a collaborative art. But I think that too often we playwrights are looking for our collaborators to solve problems we should be solving. In a traditional production - and by traditional in this context I mean one where a playwright has written a play independently, and a theater has chosen it for production - the play document itself is the nexus of collaboration. We are not doing our job as collaborative partners if we don't suggest clear visions for all aspects of the play, including scene transitions.
So how do we go about that? By developing a more expressive scene transition language. Keep experimenting with ways to communicate your vision. For example, in my play First Words, I envisioned seamless act breaks. Here I pick up near the end of the first scene:
DIANE begins to create a space around her. She walks to a desk. She places testing materials on her desk: a stand-up binder, a collection of sponge pieces. A stopwatch.
That’s my job. That’s what I do.
What I should have done.
Behind DIANE, PAUL, BARBARA and AIDEN enter the desk area.
Not a quantum leap, I suppose. But detailing the movement I see and borrowing the convention of Continuous from film, I think I've created a more solid framework for collaboration.
What other techniques are people using to detail scene transitions?