Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rehearsal #5: Dancing with the Improvisors

We rehearsed last night in a mirrored dance studio at ACT, largely because our regular space was booked but also so we could do some serious dance work. We started with the standard dance warm-up, made all the more interesting by the option of looking at yourself in a mirror doing it. Then we went into the choreography teaching exercise.

Alyssa took a small group of 4 people out on to the ACT balcony and taught them a wonderfully simple dance that involved standing in a straight line while bouncing and leaning in different directions. Of course, I do not do it justice. It was wonderful. Karen took the rest of the group (one of the assigned choreographers had thought they were on the schedule for next week) and put us into a long sequence of stepping around and crossing each other. Again, I do not do it justice, but large group numbers are very effective.

From there we moved into some couples dancing. We always work on couples dancing in Let It Snow rehearsals, but so rarely do we do it in shows. I’m not sure why. I’d love to see it and do it in a show. I think one hurdle is that it’s hard to do in groups because everyone has such a tenuous grasp of the footwork that they can only do it over one span of distance. With every couple traveling at different rates, traffic jams become problematic and messy. But maybe one couple doing some dancing behind someone singing a solo would be easier to work into a show? I don’t know. I’ll have to hunt for ideas.

Then we warmed up our singing voices with some Dona Nobis Pacem and did a Color/Advance exercise. We did it once telling a story and then we did it again singing a song. It was amazing how much more natural coloring is while singing. We often talk about not putting plot elements into our songs, and I think that exercise really drove home how little plot you need in a song. I think I even learned more from directing the other person’s song than I did singing my own.

Then we moved into some faux opening numbers. “Faux” because we didn’t focus on the words at all. We mostly sang gibberish. The focus was on the backup dancing. We worked on developing movement to go along with our choruses and on crisping up the background dancing during verses.

I think the biggest thing we learned from all this was “Commitment”. Commit to your movement, and it’s ok to put all of your energy into one gesture rather than having lots of extraneous movement. As clay said “have a moment, not a seizure.”

We also learned that having a “leader” during the backup dancing behind verses makes them so much easier. So, commit to being the leader. Either take control or if you sense that you’re in charge, go all the way with it. And, perhaps more importantly, don’t be afraid to say what you’re doing. Tell everyone in plain English what attitude you want them to affect or what dance move you want them to do or what direction you want them to go. It’s easy to forget you can direct movement with your voice, but it’s so helpful when people do it.

Then we closed by singing some solos (or rather having everyone sing their own solo simultaneously) with the focus being on dancing during the song, either while singing or during a clearly defined dance break. Frankly, in terms of my own work, I’m discovering that I like exploring footwork more than arm or torso movement. But I also discovered that the more footwork I did, the more natural arm and torso movement became. I’ll have to push that further.

(Sunset from the ACT balcony last night)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rehearsal #4: Oops, I missed it

I did not go to rehearsal this week as I was recovering from some strange non-flu virus that had me sleeping 24 hours a day. Here's Clay's picture from rehearsal:

As I understand it, they started with this week's choreographers teaching their dances:

Clay -- aggressive poppy hip-hop
Trish -- tense contemporary conflict (Massive Attack!)
Merrill -- flirty girl pop

Then they did some singing and finally some show starts.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rehearsal #3: Formations

Last night at rehearsal we started a little late due to the crazy rain storm we had yesterday. We moved pretty quickly into Mandy’s dance warm-up, which you can see in all of its glory here. And then split up into three groups so that three more cast members could teach us choreography. Susan taught her group a Fosse-esque tap routine. Dave (the group I was in) taught some zombie dancing, and Michael led some sexy partner dancing. The big take a ways were: 1. moving towards or away form the audience looks cool. 2. looking like you’re having a good time is way more important than being spot on with the dance moves.

From there we went over some group dance formations. Things like circles, lines, columns. And ways to move around in those formations. In previous shows we’ve tended to get locked into one or two formations. We’re trying break out of that and make things more textured.

Then we warmed up our singing voices and practiced some Verse/Chorus songs in a circle before attempting some actual opening numbers.

The opening number of Let It Snow has always been very structured. It’s a good way to kick the show off right and set the tone for the rest of the night. Mandy & Susan are mixing it up in several ways. First off, instead of one person going out to set the chorus, everyone is going to go out and “inhabit an environment”. Mill around, interact. Be somewhere that suggests the town. Then one person will emerge to sing the song’s first verse, while everyone’s still inhabiting the world. Then a second person will start singing the chorus. Everyone will notice them. Then when everyone repeats the chorus along with them, they’ll assume a formation. We’ll return to that formation for every chorus, but assume new formations during the verses. That will hopefully spur some more movement. Fortunately so many people in the cast have done this show before and everyone can handle all this complexity.

We did three opening numbers last night. The three towns we did escape me at the moment, but the details weren’t important. The important thing was seeing that structure in action and seeing that it can work and look good. We also learned to “mill” with purpose and energy, to really grab the moment when you want to sing the next verse or set the chorus. The new structure makes it less apparent who’s going to sing next.

Next week we focus more on improv and the week after on dance. The shows coming up fast! Did you know that ticket are already on sale? From now until November 1, you can use the coupon code “SPECIAL” to get 25% off when you buy tickets through our website. Buy Ticket Here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Every Day Improv

Susan's teaching a class in the East Bay in October:

Every Day Improv
with Susan Snyder
Enjoy exploring the world of improvisation in a low pressure, playful environment.
Increase your confidence, improve your public speaking skills, and enjoy the experience along the way. This class is for adults wanting their first taste of improv, and those returning to deepen their range of improvisational expression. Shy people welcome.

Dates: Sundays, October 18 & 25
Time: 12:30-3:30pm
Location: Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, CA
(street parking, walking distance from MacArthur BART)
Cost: $40 single class/ sign up for 2 or more $30 a class

Contact Susan

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rehearsal #2: A Little Bit of Everything

For our second rehearsal for Let It Snow we did a little bit of dancing, a little bit of singing, and a little bit of improv. Sort of an overview of the entire show.

I got lead my favorite name-game warm-up exercise for the firs time with this cast. Since we didn’t do the exercise during the auditions, this was several cast members first time playing. Even so, it went very smoothly. We made it all the way up to four patterns. It went so smoothly in fact, I kept thinking I was doing something wrong in leading it.

Mandy and Susan want everyone in the cast to experience being a choreographer. At every rehearsal three people have to teach a group of 3-4 other cast members some sort of choreographed dance. I was one of the choreographers this week. We had to choreograph a minimum of 16 counts, so that’s what I did. It was mostly stepping and jazz hands with one complicated turn. In any case, it took me the entire 10 minutes to teach it.

Then as we watched the other groups perform their dances, I was astounded to see how complicated and long other people’s pieces were. I should have done more, but at the same time I showed all you really needed to do was 16 counts. Still, good to see how far people are willing to push things.

Then we worked on the Verse/Chorus song structure we’ve been experimenting with. Instead of starting a song with a chorus, we start a song with a verse. Then the second person to sing sets the chorus. It’s more like regular songs, but can be tricky. Still, it went well. We followed that up by singing duets. Mandy and Susan had everyone pair up and sing a duet all at the same time. That way everyone got to sing 3 songs.

Finally we did two show-starts. Susan had printed out some brief info on small towns that we used as suggestions and then dove into the first three scenes of a show. We did Genoa, NV and Cranbury, NJ. I was in the Cranbury one and played a not-so-swift hardware store employee who confused “asphalt” for “screws”. There was some good word play in that scene including Susan saying “I think you’re screwed” and Dave singing a song about it not being his “fault” they were out of “asphalt”.

The take-aways, I think, were to look for themes to develop (“Nevada started here in Genoa, so we’re going to start something”) and to remember small towns do have upper to upper-middle class residents (we tend to only ever play working-class folk). We also saw perhaps the first scene in a Let It Snow rehearsal or show ever to take place in someone’s garage. Lisa also did some kick-ass space object work establishing the hardware store.