Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hiding Behind the Fourth Wall

I have some pet peeves when it comes to how folks interact with the musician during a show.
I am privileged to work with some magnificent improvisers, folks who can weave together drama, comedy, adventure or whimsy as they see fit, and draw the audience in. Of course, the audience understands intellectually that there are folks on stage making stuff up, but audiences have a tremendous ability to suspend disbelief and allow a story to get in to their heads and hearts.

One of my pet peeves is when someone in a story based scene breaks the fourth wall and turns to the audience to address them as the actor, rather than the character... Perhaps the scene was rocking along in a certain direction, and a new offer jumps out and takes it somewhere else. The Elizabethan fop character with the wonderful accent turns to the audience, rolls their eyes, and (in their normal voice) says "Well, I wasn't expecting that!" It's a bit of a cheap laugh, at the expense of the momentum of the story. I suspect it also builds rapport between the actor and the audience ("us"), at the expense of the other actors ("them").

Most of the time, the music isn't part of the story; the characters can't hear that soundtrack to their lives. So I find it awkward when suddenly one of the characters can hear that music, and they react to it, or start talking to me about it. They shouldn't be able to hear the music, or see me! It's a little like the faux horror films where the characters know they're about to be tracked down by the maniac because the scary music starts.

Or, worse than that... for some reason if folks can't remember the musician's name, they'll address them as "Mister Music". As in "Ready, Mister Music!" Eeek. With a name like that, I'm sure I should have some kind of red-orange velvet suit and top hat, big floppy shoes, and balloon animals.

Maybe one of the reasons I hate it when folks break that fourth wall to talk to me is that I don't particularly want to be seen or heard by the audience. My job is to fill the scene with emotive music, not to be eye candy or provide witty banter (neither of which are within my repertoire). That's definitely a me-thing; I know plenty of impro musicians that are just as happy performing on-stage.

Of course, talking to the musician can work a treat if the scene is set up as a directed scene, where one of the actors is taking the role of director and occasionally halting the action on stage for a re-do or to suggest a change. If that's the reality you've set up for the audience, those starts and stops are part of it, and it all works really well.

I got to play a character for the first time, well, ever, in a show a few weeks ago. Jane Austen - By The Book was a wonderful Impro Mafia show directed by Natalie Bochenski. The basic premise was that Jane Austen herself (played by Natalie) invited the audience around to her place of an evening. I was a part of that reality, playing Mr Smiggins, the local vicar who was quite handy on the pianola. The audience was invited around to help Jane work on her new novel, while Smiggins provided musical inspiration for the story. As she wrote, the actors took to the stage, sometimes conversing with her but never to the audience. The effect was as if the audience and myself had a window in to the writer's mind. Natalie threw to me a couple of times to play a particular kind of music, and in this instance it really worked. (So long as I don't have to talk. Me no talkie.)

The same thing worked well in last week's A Place You Can go, where I, a musician at a venue, was playing the part of a musician at a venue, and one of the characters interacted with me. (What did they do? You should read that post to find out.)

Photo by Qskulls

1 comment:

Girl Clumsy said...

Ah yes, Mr Smiggins' and his magical fingers. ;)

I'm glad you enjoyed playing in the show; it was, as usual, all the better for it!

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