Monday, February 16, 2009

We Want A Rock

Any improviser knows how important it is to commit to a scene. If you approach any scene, character or story half-heartedly, the scene suffers, your fellow players suffer, and the audience gets a half-baked show. That goes for musicians as well, on a scene-by-scene basis. If you're not present for a scene, the music won't fit, and the scene loses integrity.

In one way, though, musicians have a bigger commitment than many others involved with improv theatre.

If an actor cancels at the last minute for a show, in my experience it's not too hard to get someone at short notice to jump in. There are usually more actors than stagetime, so folks are keen to jump on stage and join a show. Of course this differs from show to show, but generally short-form shows can replace a missing person pretty easily.

Case in point: We have a pretty healthy ecosystem of improvisers here in Brisbane, from rookies through to folks with 20 years' experience. We get in early with an active Theatresports community in high schools. Several of the troupes run beginners workshops and rookie shows, and actively recruit new blood. There is enough stage time that improvisers can grow and get more experience. And of course some retire or take sabbaticals... Generally the base of players is changing and maturing. Across the three largest improv troupes in Brisbane, over the course of 2008, at least 80 improvising actors participated in shows, not including school kids. (Brisbane has a population of just under 2 million, so somewhere between the size of Phoenix and Houston).

With musicians, it's a different story. We seem to be a bit harder to come by. I can name probably ten folks who have done music for improv in Brisbane, ever, and we probably only have three or four who are actively performing at the moment.

If you're a musician who has committed to a show, or a troupe, you had better be ready to follow through on that commitment. If you can't make it to a show, and you let them know at the last minute, they probably aren't going to be able to replace you; that's a huge hit to that show. If you see a possibility of missing a commitment, let them know early.

Sometimes musicians can be a little, er, undisciplined about their commitments. The guys from Zenprov touch on this in their podcast #23, Music in Improv. If you haven't listened to the Zenprov casts, give them a try; the hosts are engaging, and the podcast is easy to listen to. This one in particular is more about music and musicians from the actors' or director's point of view. More on that podcast in a future post.

If you've joined a group, you should be honest with them about your intentions. If you want to work with them year-in year-out, great! If you are just testing the waters and you don't know if it will stick, tell them. If you have a family or a career that is ultimately a higher priority for you, say so. It's better all round if everyone knows how much you want to commit to a group, so the group can plan accordingly.

There's a plus side to being part of what seems to be this exclusive set of improv musicians - you get all the stage time you want. If you're a musician that really enjoys improv, you can focus on one troupe or work with a few, and you'll probably get as much or as little work as you like.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Amen to this post!

I created a show which is a full hour and a half Broadway style musical (Musical! the musical - check out some clips of our Matrix! musical on You Tube...)and boy howdy, you muso types make or break the show!

Playing for improv is so specialized - we've had some amazing musicians sit in with our show, but they just couldn't get the give and take with the actors.

Which means it IS a lot tougher to replace you wonderful, wonderful people!

Thank you for all you add to the shows!

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