Getting from one moment to the next should not be left to chance. Climbing steps from solid ground to the gently swaying surface of a sailing ship at port forces a person to pay attention. Once aboard, the endless rolling motion ultimately becomes familiar, but in that transition between terra firma and living ocean, everything’s in play.
A person in touch with the power of transitions is a person who understands what it means to hold a room. Just like shifting from stable ground to moving surface of a ship can spell disaster, the moment in-between each reality implies adventure and opportunity. Transitions connect us from what was to what is about to become. Transitions tell us that other places will always remain unknowable if we’re unwilling to move from what’s familiar, what’s we already know.
George Lucas famously built geometric patterns into his transitions when Episode IV came out in 1977. Moving from scene to scene, audiences had showy billboards to tell them to pay attention, that something was about to change. Shot to shot he usually moved with cuts, but scene to scene meant diamond wipes, circular sweeps, and other carefully considered two-dimensional transitions.
Movie references call upon a limited historical human experience, however. Theater extends backwards into the mists. Lighting, curtains, and even the mere arrival of human players on a performance space cue audiences about times “before”, times “during”, and times “after”. Audiences feel the world change as their attentions turns inward to the action. Watching a performance space, the rest of the world disappears when performers understand how to make transitions count. What the wise will realize from this consideration is that transitions should never be regarded as mere marginalia, as separate from the show. Transitions can make or break a moment. They set the stage going in to something else and they clean the stage on the way out.
Social media has atomized transitions, forcing users to tick-tock from state to state at dizzying rates like the beating wings of hummingbirds. The has had the unfortunate effect of diluting many people’s ability to be comfortably present in any one place, intellectual or physical, for very long. The power of transformation continually suggests flights of adventure, the whiff of a dopamine toke, and the acceleration of transitions from tweet to click to fast-forwarded video (just to see the “good” part) has taken a collective toll. Nonetheless, the effect persists, albeit minimized. It’s like gravity on a small asteroid. Even without a strong pull, the force is innate; it cannot be removed, no matter how much the mass has been reduced.
Acting students learn about the idea of “history”, that character and scene do not simply appear in a performance space without context, but instead bring a past to the fore. Thus we return to the concept of travel. Travel is the ultimate human transition. A day spent on a train or plane presents in ourselves chances to discover that the person getting off that vehicle somewhere new is subtly transformed from the person who set out on the journey hours or days earlier. The act of changing the patterns and rhythms of our days give us license to adjust, to modify, to remake ourselves. Sometimes that’s for better, sometimes for worse, but there’s almost always a transition when we translocate. Those moments are not unlike steps up and onto the swaying surface of that sailing ship where we began. In transitions we can lose our balance. We can lose a clear sense of who we are or what we should do next. Alternatively, in transitions we can draw from our history and derive momentum from moments immediately behind us.
Curtains continue to open and close. What happens in the lights matters just as much as what happens in the shadows.
@michaelstarobin or facebook.com/1auglobalmedia