In 2002, through a string of odd circumstances, I was given the opportunity to produce a large Christmas show. Our church had secured a nationally known singer, to feature, for a large choral production. However, six weeks before the show, the star fell from the sky. She couldn’t make it. By pure coincidence, I had discussed an idea for a variety show, with our administrator, that same week. She gave me the show. Boom. Just like that.
The show was a test in personal endurance for me. An extra 50, or so, extra hours each week. Scripts to write. A cast and crew to train. Props to build. But. The biggest issues was the transitions. How to get from one performance to the next, without losing the audience.
I secured several independent musicians to feature. We wrote almost a dozen scripts, for live action on the stage. We had props and tricks and even pyrotechnics. But, my biggest concern was the transitions between each set. I didn’t want to lose any momentum, once we got started.
Yes. I am serious. It was my main concern.
I wasn’t worried. I had studied the master playbook for production excellence. That’s right. Sesame Street. Nobody knew their transitions and production like them. Who else could hold the attention of a five year old for an hour? Who else could keep, virtually, the same format and characters running since 1969, and hold solid ratings? They were my production model.
Sesame Street basically runs one to three minute segments. They don’t leave anything on screen long enough to get boring. They use the right colors and language, to appeal to their target audience. They have absolutely mastered their trade. They have kept several generations of children entertained and coming back for more.
I also considered some of the shows from Las Vegas and Disney, that I have seen. Well rehearsed. Carefully executed scene changes and lighting. Virtually flawless sound. Absolute excellence.
Now. Contrast that to the high majority of church productions I have endured.
We were pumped up to attend the Christmas show, at a local church, years ago. The members bragged about how amazing it always was. They were so excited. We were honestly looking forward to it. The night of the big show, fifteen kids walked down the center isle, in bathrobes, with towels on their heads. Those kids sang about five, unrehearsed, Christmas carols. Then they walked back out. They were applauded and raved about.
God bless those kids for even trying. But. It wasn’t a production. I don’t think anyone there, had ever even been to a real show.
Later, we attended a school production. The sound was awful. The lighting wasn’t even close. The performances were barely rehearsed. The whole event was painful to sit through. From a few glances around the room, nobody wanted to be there. Those kind of events are based on obligatory attendance.
That’s not what we are after.
In the development of our show, we had some great scripts and performers. We rehearsed until folks hated me. We worked out almost all of the bugs. Excluding the ones that I created on the night of the show.
But. The absolute magic, from that night, was our transitions.
We created videos that filled in the down time. We made fake commercials that tied segments together. We even created some video clips that bounced back and forth, with live action on the stage. It flowed perfectly… Right up until I personally wrecked the finale. Yep. That was me. All my fault. Trashed finale, but spectacular transitions.
The transition is a fine art form, in itself. Keeping the audience engaged. Maintaining the momentum of the show. Removing any opportunity for the audience to get up and wander off.
Think about it like this.
Imagine that you are driving your car on a fairly long trip. You find a radio station that you are enjoying. After a while, a song ends and nothing else happens. No announcements. No music. No news. Nothing. You are driving along, in silence. How long does it take before you change the station? At what point do you give up on this station? I bet it doesn’t take long. Or maybe a simple conversation. Someone just stops talking for a minute, staring at you, with nothing to say. How quickly does that get awkward and uncomfortable?
That’s the same way with productions. You can’t leave the audience hanging, waiting for something to happen. Your shows and events, need to keep things moving, keeping the audience engaged.
Just like a good DJ. Someone who can keep things moving and make you enjoy the show. That how productions need to happen. Make it fun. Make it engaging. Make them want to be there. No dead air. No sloppy transitions.
Again. All done with excellence.