Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One Bride for Seven Brothers


ImproMafia's long form musical demonstrated some great musical techniques.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of working with an amazing cast to produce the improvised show One Bride for Seven Brothers. This was ImproMafia's first long-form musical, with a first half, intermission, and second half, bringing the show to about an hour and ten minutes.

This show had the normal sort of preparation for ImproMafia long-form. Most short-form improvised shows are completely cooked up on the spot, with zero preparation and no preconceptions of character or story. For our long-forms, we spend a great deal of time considering the underlying handle of the show, and putting together a few characters and a few potential story beats. The story arcs and final character traits appear on the night, a product of audience offers and the experiences from rehearsals.

Structure


One Bride was based loosely on the classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In that original musical, a family of seven brothers live in the mountains, only occasionally coming to town for supplies and such. The eldest brother comes to town one day on a mission to find a wife - and he is successful, bringing his new wife back to the house. Eventually all the brothers decide it would be good to have wives of their own, so they ride in to town, kidnap some women, and bring them back to their mountain home. By the end of winter when the mountain passes have opened, the townsfolk come in to town to retrieve them, and... well, you can watch it if you want to know what happens next.

In our production One Bride, a family of seven brothers are the sole inhabitants of a town. In a nod to the original, the brothers are named alphabetically by height, from Archie down to Golly. Each of the brothers has a job or two, and collectively they are self sufficient. (Given the lack of customers, their businesses are a little stagnant, but they cheerfully soldier on.) They have a family problem to solve (which comes from an audience offer).

Not long in to the story, Nancy Buttons arrives in town. She is either a stranger, or returning to the town after a long absence, depending on how the things pan out. Nancy has arrived with a reason you might travel to a town (again, an audience offer).

There are several elements that we expected to see develop in the story, elements you might consider standard in a musical. We expected the youngest brother Golly to fall in love with Nancy, who may eventually start to feel the same way, and some obstacle might in their way. By the end of the show, the family problem should be solved, Nancy's reason for coming to town is satisfied, and most likely Golly and Nancy are united.

Rehearsals


We ran a bunch of rehearsals leading up to the performance, where we could tune some of the elements in show (such as the offers), and experiment with different characters and their relationships.

When I watch a long form show (whether or not I'm participating in it), I tend to get quite attached to the characters, suspending my disbelief and really buying the story. So I found it completely bizarre to have a rehearsal where the characters take shape, a story comes about, there is conflict, resolution, and finally a happy ending... then it all resets for the next rehearsal, where none of that last story happened, but the characters are eerie reflections of their former selves. It's very much like a sci-fi show where someone jumps in to an alternate reality.

I found it very interesting to watch how some characters changed over the course of our preparation. In rehearsals Archie was often the father figure, the voice of reason guiding Golly to the right path; on the night, Archie was a simpleton, the dullest of all the brothers. Brett and Eric seemed to fall in to the role of comic relief for each of the shows, roles they nailed each time. The villain of the story always seemed to evolve organically, and was never the same person twice. Cain, Fudge and Dudley seemed to fall in to the roles of brothers who could turn to the dark side easily. The wide-eyed sweet youngest brother Golly was cast as the male lead, opposite Nancy Buttons, a headstrong and independent woman.



Back: Dan Beeston, Luke Allan, Luke Rimmelzwaan, Kris Anderson
Centre: Tom Dunstan, Joel Gilmore, Michael Griffin, Alex Reichart
Front: Tristan Ham, Amy Currie

Cast


The vocal director Luke Rimmelzwaan helped to guide the group as we all put together techniques and mechanisms for constructing songs. We spent a great deal of time on certain techniques - duets, separated lovers' duets, patter songs... So much so, that the cast could see the songs approaching as scenes progressed.

The director Mike Griffin put together a cast of accomplished improvisers, all with great instincts and tremendous voices. One Bride (the show and the rehearsals) is something I'm really proud of; I very much enjoyed working with everyone creating this show.

  • Golly: Tristan Ham
  • Nancy: Amy Currie
  • Archie: Luke Rimmelzwaan
  • Brett: Luke Allan
  • Cain: Alex Reichart
  • Dudley: Dan Beeston
  • Eric: Joel Gilmore
  • Fudge: Tom Dunstan
  • Director: Michael Griffin
  • Musical Director: Kris Anderson
  • Vocal Director: Luke Rimmelzwaan

Case Study


Over the coming weeks, Musical Hotspot will feature articles by myself and Luke Rimmelzwaan, explaining some of the techniques we used and the discoveries we made. We'll use songs from the show as demonstration - it's always easier to explain something when you have an example to point to.

Thanks to Al Caeiro for permission to use her photos from the show. Al always takes wonderful pictures of ImproMafia long form shows, and I'm glad she's letting me share some of them with you.

I also want to give a big thank you to the cast for letting me use the songs on the site. I love these songs, and I hope you enjoy listening to them too. (If you subscribe to the Musical Hotspot podcast, you'll get these songs delivered to you each week.)

Photography by Al Caeiro

1 comment:

Girl Clumsy said...

Hey Kris,

As you know, I was really disappointed to not be cast in this show, as I have always loved doing musical impro. The show was a great success and a credit to its performers and your good self.

I would love to do some musical shows in the future; of course, this may not be possible due to this cast putting on such a successful show. I imagine audiences will want to see them again.

In the meantime I look forward to learning about your experiences!

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