Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gibberish Song

This is another game that nicely avoids having to sing and think at the same time. Although I like it as a workshop game, it's surprisingly entertaining as a performance game too.

You need two players. One of them is the singer, but doesn't know English, and they sing a song in gibberish. They are encouraged to be expressive and use their body. The other player is a dispassionate translator, often sitting, who translates every line after it has been sung.

I find this game works quite well when you play a march. Think Little Drummer Boy. There's enough time to get a decent amount of verse in, and enough of a gap where the translator has a space to speak their part.

The singer here really isn't worried about putting together an intelligible story (although when they can, it's great). They're just trying to find notes and phrasing that matches the relatively simple song, and delegating all of the tricky lets-be-clever work to the translator.

The most important thing for a successful Gibberish Song is to make sure the song lends itself to phrases separated by a bit of time, and that the singer phrases things appropriately so the translator has a space to speak.

I tend to play Gibberish Song a bit like an opera. Because the narrative is in gibberish, on its own it doesn't provide much light and shade, since the audience can't immediately understand the words. Changing the mood of the music to match the physicality on stage and the translated narrative works a treat. If the song was about, say, a ritual where the young boy is left in a shopping centre, and must survive for three hours as a passage to manhood, you might start with encouraging doe-eyed hopeful music, move to nervous tension as they're left alone in the mall, escalate in the middle of the song to something dramatic and full of conflict, returning to triumphant music when they emerge to find their parents.

Great for workshops

Why is this such a good game for workshops? Workshoppers are pretty nervous about getting up and having to sing and think and look clever in front of others. In this game, if you're the one doing the singing, you really don't have to think a whole lot. You're more concerned with making noise that fits the style and emotion of the song. That's a great way to get people out of their shell and up and making noise in front of a class. It's pretty hard to sing something stupid if it was all in gibberish in the first place.

3 comments:

Dan said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on one point.

If you're the one doing the singing, you really don't have to think a whole lot. You're more concerned with making noise that fits the style and emotion of the song.

If you're doing gibberish to the best of your ability you know what you're saying (or singing) even though it's coming out as nonsense. When the translator explains what you've said it's your job to ret-con your last line in your head and continue on. This will give you a much more dynamic and believable gibberish language.

Also, we were playing with a really fun slant on this game that makes it a much more enjoyable performance piece. Don't allow time for the translator to translate. He then has to catch the audience up between breathes. The pacing gets sped up to double time and the translator is made to play in the moment (rather than thinking ahead).

Kris said...

Ah hah, I've fallen in to the trap of not-being-an-actor-but-talking-about-what-actors-do :)

I see what you mean about gibbering coherently (er, yeah, that's what I mean) - when you know what you're doing, and working well with your translator, you are collaborating, you are weaving a story, and it's not throwaway.

I guess when I approach this as a workshop game, the appeal to new players is the don't-have-to-think thing. I would hope they would evolve past their initial stage fright and be awesome :)

I love the variation on the game - that would make it much more intense!

Dan said...

My rule of thumb is that if I'm on stage doing the easy part, I'm probably not doing it properly ;)

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