Friday, September 26, 2008

Time After Time

We're just wrapping up the 2008 Theatresports Youth Festival here in Brisbane. Around 60 teams of four to six high-school kids each compete in this festival every year. For some it's the first time they've ever done impro or performed in front of people; for others it's their fifth year of performing. Usually we find some born improvisers in there that can go on to do great things, and this year was no exception.

It seems natural to pitch Youth TS as a competitive sport - inter-school competitions get the whole competitive thing. So, if you compete strongly enough in the heat, you make it to the quarter finals, then maybe the semis, and if you're really good, the finals. Adult players can recognise that the competition aspect is just a handle to make the audience comfortable. Sadly, high school players (and often their parents) don't get that, and Winning can become awfully important to them. Also, the kids that don't make it past the heat get a whole 10 minutes of stage time total. Dan Beeston and Michael Griffin from Impro Mafia talk about Youth TS and the competition handle in the latest installment of the excellent And Time podcast (#9.)

Youth Theatresports is a big season for me because it means impro shows Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday night for about six weeks. The kids are doing things that are pretty advanced and risky for them, but pretty stock standard as far as music goes. (They tend to steer away from musical games, until they realise that Operas and Ballets and Musical Hotspots are crowd pleasers and potentially big-scoring games.) So it's a pretty long evening of MC-game-MC-game-MC... as many as 24 games a night, and that means a lot of fill music. Night after night. Week after week.

Every time I sign up for a season of Youth, I get to a point in the season where I'm going mad out of boredom. You may not have realised that you only have 5 or 10 or 20 different variations on fill music that you do, but working night after night you figure it out pretty quick. So I start to get bored, and irritated that I'm playing the same stuff again, and frustrated at it, then...

...at some point, something magical happens. I start to break apart, and start playing weird things that I've never played before... strange chord progressions, strange variations on songs I've heard, styles of music I might not have tried before, just stuff that falls well outside of what I'd normally play for fill music. And it's great! It's a little risky! Sometimes music fails! (And no one cares!) Sometimes it's great! And I learn new techniques or progressions or styles or vibes that just go in to the bag of tricks that I draw on for future shows.

By the end of the season, I'm often a much better musician than I was at the start, just because I've broken some of the patterns I always play in, and extended myself to do some fresh new things.

I suppose the alternative to getting over that boredom barrier would be to get bored with the whole thing, and stop doing impro. I wonder if it's the same deal for impro actors?

1 comment:

Girl Clumsy said...

Our school didn't do the Theatresports competition - I think our drama teacher thought it was a) too much effort and b) a waste of limited funds. I don't recall knowing much about Theatresports at all until I discovered impro myself after I left school.

In a way, I'm glad I never had to deal with the competition element - while I am reasonably competitive and enjoyed debating and some team sports, I've not enjoyed the competitive angle in youth TS (of course, it's been years since I was asked to judge by the Kubler people).

I find it great fun to "mock" a competition, and indeed, the sledging involved in Impro Mafia's "Grudge Match Comedy Football" is one of the highlights. But I've seen some players take that competitive edge far too seriously, sometimes to the detriment of the overall show.

In fact, I know several players (mostly women, interestingly enough) that have given up on impro because they felt there was too much pressure on "winning". That's a real shame.

In regards to getting bored - I'm sure it's the same with playing as it is with music! I think everybody benefits from a bit of impro downtime. It allows you to recharge and rediscover the joy. Of course, everyone is different.

Anyway, just some thoughts!

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