Thursday, September 4, 2008

Music Workshops for Actors

Impro actors are a pretty keen bunch. The idea of getting up on stage and acting out characters they're improvising on the spot is the thing that attracts many of them to impro in the first place.

Most of the improvisers I've met weren't just born with the skills to do this; they had raw talent, and honed that talent through workshops. Every set of impro workshops I've ever been to or heard about had one or more sessions dedicated to music and singing. And every time the participants know a music workshop is coming up, the attendance for that workshop inexplicably drops for that week.

People seem to have a natural reluctance to sing in front of others - even extroverted improvisers. If you're not a super-talented singer, dropping your inhibitions and exposing your voice on stage can be tough. When you're acting, you're not yourself, and you can hide behind that character you're playing. That sound that you make when you sing is most definitely you, exposing your voice for all the world to hear.

One of the jobs that impro musos find themselves doing is running workshops for new improvisers, to get them familiar with performing some of the musical games. This is tricky for many reasons. First up, musos don't necessarily make good impro actors (although there are some who do!), so it might be a case of "those who can't do, teach".

To me, the most challenging part of teaching these workshops is helping people get over their natural reluctance to sing. All of the actors in a workshop know they're going to get on stage and act - that's what they signed on for. I think people find the singing part a lot more confronting.

When I first started teaching music workshops, my wife Wanda and I put together a set of exercises that were designed to help people come out of their shell and sing in front of strangers. Quite a few of them use a sort of Deepak Chopra-like slight of hand to make you think about something other than the singing you're doing, and before long, wow, you've been singing with these people for 2 hours!

I'll be posting several entries on games and exercises that are good for these sorts of workshops, like Gibberish Song, Emotional Symphony, and Elvis Ate My Baby. Some of them are entertaining enough to extend past the workshop and in to a show.

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