EA Series: Transitions

| December 12, 2011 | 2 Comments

This will make your guard program better, I SWEAR! I had planned to cover this topic later in the series, but knowing that many guards are already starting their winter programs, I thought discussing it now might help prevent problems later on.

One of the most common failures in all of color–guard–land is the dreaded “equipment transition”. It’s amazing how this one awkward moment can ruin the flow of an otherwise enjoyable program. I’m going to help you avoid some of the pitfalls.

We can reduce this whole conversation to one simple concept. Your job, as the designer, is to make equipment changes that are either spectacular or invisible. That means you have to put thought, energy and planning into how you create them. The problem is usually that the designer doesn’t “create” anything in those moments and that’s why they don’t work. Sometimes when I talk with someone in a critique they’ll say something like “I didn’t want you to look over there.” Guess what? I looked and it wasn’t pretty. (Sometimes they even inadvertently tell me to look there. This article helps you avoid that too.) Every moment of the show and every performer on the stage needs to contribute something positive.

Now, let’s talk about some common mistakes and ideas that may help:

1. MAKE the drill/staging do the work. If you’re going to pick up equipment from the perimeter of the floor (or the edge of a football field), design the staging so that it LOGICALLY takes the performers there. There’s nothing worse than watching a bunch of performers running off the floor to get their next piece of equipment.

You can do this with a linear form that moves to the perimeter, or performers can flutter off in a sequential or a random freeform. You can use any staging device you want, as long as it works in the context of your program and it’s designed, choreographed and performed all the way through.

2. Consider some kind of hand–off or exchange. You can use one performer to carry 2 pieces of equipment on or off the field, leaving half the group on–stage the whole time. An exchange doesn’t have to be a huge toss or some wild trick. You can do something simple that still generates interest and makes an effective moment. Be creative.

3. Everyone doesn’t have to change equipment at the same time. (No, really, it’s true.) You’ve probably seen a very successful group create an effect where everyone pulls out a new color silk at a big musical impact. The reason that works so well is because it was very skillfully crafted by someone who really knows how to do that.

Consider changing in two, or three, or four groups. You can use one group to control the focus while another DISCREETLY goes off to change equipment.

You can also use some kind of sequential effect that leads the viewers eye down the line. Then the performers at the beginning can change equipment while the viewer is distracted and they won’t even notice. (Make sure that something worthwhile happens at the end of that sequential to resolve the idea.)

Some groups use a soloist as a focal point during an equipment change. This is where it gets tricky. First, is your soloist strong enough that he or she will be able to hold the audience’s attention? Second, can you create an appropriate visual balance such that the viewer is motivated to watch the soloist and not the rest of the ensemble?

4. Choreograph your equipment changes. If you can’t hide it, make it part of the program. Make it interesting to watch. Nothing is less interesting than watching someone bend over and pick up a flag for 4 counts. (This also goes for the beginning of the show, after they dance for the first 30 seconds and everyone magically ends up standing next to a flag laying in the middle of the floor. Yeah, you’re not fooling anyone. We know what’s coming.)

Other things to consider . . .

Performance is key. When I’m judging I can often see the transition coming in the performers eyes. They forget about performing and focus their whole being on that new piece of equipment. They should be confident enough in how the equipment change is going to go that they don’t need to scour the front of the floor to spot their equipment. They also need to be taught to believe that the performance quality going into and coming out of the transition are important. Some don’t seem to get that. (It also helps if you give them something to do. Many choreographers forget that. Even if it’s just characterization, it will give the performers something to perform and keep the audience engaged.

Props/Backdrops are a double–edged sword. People think that they help hide the ugliness of the equipment change. If you’re not careful they can also lead to ugly staging moments (as you try to cram the whole color guard behind those 3 flats), and repetitive flow (since we know that every time someone goes behind a flat we’re going to see a new piece of equipment emerge).

More isn’t always better. You don’t need to introduce a new piece of equipment for every new musical idea. Consider the trade–off you’re making. You don’t necessarily get points for how many different “things” you put on the floor. You get points for the quality of your ideas and the achievements of your performers. Let that be where you put the most emphasis.

Always give your viewer something of quality to watch. If you don’t we’ll find something to look at. It’s up to you to decide what you want to show us at each moment and make that be the most important thing happening on the floor (or field). It can be a logistical challenge make all the pieces fit, but for those groups that go the extra mile, it’s so worth it to your audience.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Choreography, Design, drill, Drill & Staging, Ensemble Analysis, Equipment Management/Logistics, General, Instruction, Joe Paul: Ensemble Analysis, Professional Development, Professional Development, Regular Blog Features

About the Author (Author Profile)

Joe Paul has had a long and varied engagement with the “marching arts” as a designer, instructor, director and judge. He was both a performing member and instructor for Avatar Winter Guard from Southern California and The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps from Rosemont, IL. More recently he has taught a number of high school color guards, as well as Allusion Winter Guard from Thousand Oaks, CA. He has been a judge for the SCSBOA, WBA, WGASC, UWGA, WTCGA & CIPA. He is currently the drill writer for Valencia High School in Valencia, Ca, staging designer for the Chino High School Winter Guards and tour manager for The Cavaliers.

Joe holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from California State University, Northridge and lives and works in Los Angeles as a freelance graphic designer.

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jo Ann says:

    This is my downfall, so that’s for the pointers!

  2. Joe Paul says:

    Jo Ann, You’re not alone, by a longshot. Hope this is helpful for you.

Leave a Reply