Monday, February 9, 2009

The World Before Later On

Most of the time, as improv musicians, we're concerned about the music taking place during the show - supporting the players and the MC, participating in musical games, and so on. But what about the music before the show, during the intermission, and after the show?

First up: Any show without pre-show and interval music will suffer. When you are doing a show, you are inviting people to attend an event; the atmosphere of the venue and the anticipation before a show is a big part of that. I can't quite articulate it clearly, but... when there is pre-show music, an audience member leaves the real world behind when they come in to the venue, your venue, your show. You can claim that venue and that space as your own, from the moment the audience member walks in. If your show starts without any pre-show music, it's just a hall or a theatre or a club, and the occasion doesn't start until the real show begins.

When there's no music playing, the venue doesn't have life. If you've ever gone to the movies, and gotten there so early that the lights are still up, there's no music, and so on... there's no life or energy. Pull the lights down a bit, get some music going, and there's a sense of anticipation - and that anticipation benefits the show.

OK, so what sort of music should be playing? This depends a lot on the venue, and the feel of the show. I do a lot of work at a venue that also hosts stand-up comedy; there are funky things hanging off of the wall, posters of comedians, friendly bar staff serving food and drinks... Audience members are in groups at tables where they can talk... The show itself (Impro Gladiators) is a really slick, snappy short-form show... Pumping, almost night-clubby music suits this show and this venue well. Another regular venue for me is a "proper" theatre where we do some excellent, more experimental long-form, and the same night-clubby music wouldn't suit that venue at all.

As mentioned in a previous post - you do want to pick music to set the audience mood. If you want interactivity and noise from the audience, energetic music is perfect. If you want a more subdued audience and less audience participation, subdued music is more appropriate.

I've been conversing recently with Tom Tollenaere, a piano-playing improviser in Belgium; in his troupe The Royal Improphonic Orchestra and Theatre, he and a double-bass player provide the music for a show visually themed in jazz theatre. With such a strong theming in the show, it would probably be inappropriate to lead the audience in with pumping nightclub music or thrash metal; choosing jazz and blues for the interval music (as long as it complemented the theme and didn't overload it) would be great.

One thing to be careful of is to give your audience some variety, if they attend your show regularly. If you have one CD with 15 songs, and they always play in the same order, any repeat audience member is going to hear the same stuff they heard before... hardly the mindset for an improv show. If you have a couple of CDs or an iPod with a bunch of music, and you shuffle the tracks, the venue will have a lot more life for those repeat audiences.

It can be really nice to pick recognisable theme music for pre-show/interval music, to closely match the production. We recently completed a season of six shows of Prognosis: Death!, a supernatural hospital drama. (So much fun!!) The pre-show and interval music had a sprinkling of TV show themes like Grey's Anatomy and the X-files. I think that sort of themed music subconsciously sits with the audience, and puts them in a frame of mind that makes them more prepared to imagine and accept a hospital backdrop or an eerie supernatural occurrence.


Dan said...

I got to do a list of songs before 'Touched by a Hammer' and I selected a bunch of songs about weather, being stupid and being too strong and clumsy. All selected because narrative elements matched elements from the show.

I worried at the time that I should've been thinking more about the thematic styles rather than the lyrics but decided not to worry about it because this was more fun.

It was more fun,.. but possibly to the detriment of the show.

Kris said...

Dan - if you could do it again, would you choose to do it differently? If you had to pick pieces to match the show thematically, what would you have chosen? (I'm getting "Ride Of The Valkyries" plus "The Littlest Hobo"...)

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