A shocking admission, I know.
Usually (but not always) in partnership with Larry Rosen, I’ve been teaching people to improvise songs and musicals. At times they do it better than those who carefully plan, fashion, and rewrite their shows countless times. Those fools like me.
But a written musical is built to be seen again and again. Improvisations are like dandelion spores. They go out into the air just once, enchanting whoever’s watching, and are never seen again.
So there are different goals and parameters with this kind of creation. Coming up with songs on the spot uses a part of the brain that isn’t often exercised. Most of our teaching involves getting performers comfortable with this unusual task. They need to know the rudiments of song construction – form, rhyme, the proper use and reuse of a title, etc. We’ve devised all sorts of rehearsal methods to get these to seem like second nature. Then, the players can focus on exactly what their characters’ minds are on. This is the Holy Grail of acting: in the ideal, you want to think exactly what your character is thinking, and then react exactly as your character would. In the improvised musical, they burst forth in spontaneous song.
If you haven’t seen song improv, it’s hard to imagine. And if you’ve seen Whose Line Is It Anyway, you haven’t seen improvisation. That TV abonimation films roughly 14 hours for every half hour it puts on the air – it edits down the best 22 minutes from a long day of hard work – and, in television’s typical dishonest way, convinces the public it is seeing improvisation. It is not. When I work live on stage with an improv group (Off the Wall, The Chainsaw Boys, Upright Citizens Brigade, Centralia, etc.) what the audience is seeing is truly created of the top of our heads. It’s an amazing thing to behold, and the moment it happens, it’s gone – like those spores.
Our last class at The People’s Improv Theatre videoed their final performance. It’s very hard to watch, due to the typical problems of a static camera in a theatre that’s not a TV studio. But I love what happens from 5:30-7:30 of Part Two, when a guy is given a suggestion (“catheter”) and doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
Our next classes, which run eight weeks, are about to start. Contact The People’s Improv Theatre right away and share the joy of spontaneous theatre.