Here’s the thing about singing. It puts the performer, and some might say the audience as well, in a very vulnerable position. There is nowhere to run, no place to hide. Sound is emanating from the mouth of the person singing the song. Is it good? Well, that’s subjective. Is it difficult? You bet. Why? Because the person onstage is telling the truth. They can’t hide behind a funny joke, a witty remark, or complex dialogue. They simply have their voice. Sure, instruments can buffer the nature of the actor’s natural instrument, but the audience didn’t come to hear a muffled tune, they came to hear a song.
Over the past 8 weeks or so, I have been taking a musical improvisation class at the People’s Improv Theater, the PIT as it’s fondly called. As I have written before, it has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done as an actor. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to have taken the class, studied with the teachers, and performed with my fellow classmates.
Singing has always been something that I have loved doing even though I know that I will never be the next Maria Callas, Kristen Chenoweth, or Idina Menzel. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be. So why do I do it? I’ve always loved music. I’ve always studied music. Ever since I was little and my mom got me a Muppets keyboard that taught me how to play “Rainbow Connection”; Ever since I was 7 and sang in choirs at church, and later in high school; Ever since I was in various musicals like Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz, and Godspell, music has been a central part of my existence.
It’s also funny that something I love to do so much can bring with it an element of uncertainty and fear. But, it’s that vulnerability which I find to be compelling. It has helped me get over hurdles in life, and this experience with musical improv is no different. I am facing a fear. Fear, by its very nature comes with negative connotations. However, I think there is such a thing as “good fear” and I have certainly come across it over the past two months. I am not the best singer in the world, but I am embracing a part of myself that I have stifled for a long time and it’s nice to bring that part of myself out again.
I know my strengths. I am good at: Acting, making people laugh, and writing. It’s only fitting that I get to merge all of those elements into improvisation. As an improviser, I am using my skills as an actor to emote and create something which I am essentially writing off the top of my head through listening to my scene partner (or partners.) This makes us writers, actors, and directors of our own material. Now, add the element of librettist (the person who writes a script for musical) and lyricist to the mix. Congrats, you now have musical improvisation.
It’s not just making stuff up for the hell of it either. There are specific rules, and a certain structure that we follow in order to make it work as improvisers. From song structures, to the format of the actual show, there are rules that are followed. It is within those confines that the show comes together, making it one of the most interesting forms of improv and pure entertainment.
What will the libretto be this Saturday at 7:00 down at the People’s Improv Theater? Only time will tell. But wait…what are the lyrics?! Oh right, we’ll have to come up with those too.
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— Stephanie Gould (@StephanieGould) March 11, 2015
Follow Your Fear