The most underrated feature of great art is a well-executed transition.
My wife and I just saw “Bright Star” at our local playhouse. The beauty of a smooth transition is subtle and easily overlooked, but always leaves me in awe when observed live. A transition is an intentional signal to the viewer a change is coming without disrupting the flow of the show. When they’re well done, the actors do not even appear to break stride.
Leslie Odom, the original Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit Hamilton, says “Preparation is the sign of your intention.” That’s certainly true for good transitions. It’s like watching a well-executed fast break in basketball as teammates race down the court instinctively aware of their teammates’ locations. Their actions on the court are a natural extension of their rehearsed chemistry. These transitions do not occur naturally; they are order imposed upon chaos.
The challenging part of making these transitions happen is that they can be so subtle as to understate what just occurred. They can also become routine if not practiced continuously and lead to complacency. In the Army, transitions are looked upon as one of the highest risk areas because injuries occur when Soldiers let their guards down. By their nature, transitions are dynamic and unpredictable, even when practiced. Unlike good transitions, they stand out when things go badly. In the military, this might mean lives. In art and writing, these mistakes cost viewers and readers.
Poorly written transitions cause distress. It is the artist’s responsibility to guide the reader from one sentence to another and from one topic to the next. It’s about removing friction to encourage the audience to move forward. Like movement on the stage, there should be a clear signal that a change is occurring with an indicator of what might come next.
And, on that note, I’m exiting stage left.