Thursday, September 30, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #2: Singing in the Living Room

In a long tradition of occasionally rehearsing in Scott's living room, we rehearsed in Scott's living room this week. While it's amply large for a living room, it does make for a cramped rehearsal space, so we focused mostly on singing.

We started with Point-of-View Songs (the Un-Scripted version of which is explained in some detail here). We experimented with having a narrator do a lead-in to the scene/song. By employing the Screaming Caterpillar tactic discussed previously, I did a rather successful narration intro to a song wherein a recounted a long series of events that resulted in one of the characters in the scene having a limp. I did not start off with no idea where I was headed however. I thought to myself, what is the point I'm trying to convey? It could be something about the location or a character or a circumstance. I know, I thought. I'll give a character a limp. That caused a loose idea to pop into my head, and I started as far away as I could, figuring I could wrap it around to the cause of the limp. Which I did.

I've been practicing this Dickens Narration idea (and reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood). I've found when I really start with nothing, I tend to ramble nonsensically, but when I deliberately start far away from a place I know I'm trying to get to, I'm more successful.

Our singing was pretty solid. I am out of practice and will need some time to find my range again. Fortunately I feel rather confident I will find it in time.

Then we worked on the elusive Environment Song. We've attempted these many times and never really gotten one to work in a show. The idea is for minor throw-away characters to sing a short phrase or mantra over and over related to their character in a sort of medley. The point is to set the environment, not try to establish characters or emotional content. Lots of musicals have them. It just so happens, that one of the best examples of this type of song comes from the musical version of a Dickens book. It's the song "Who Will Buy?" from Oliver!

The ones we did in rehearsal went well. It remains to be seen whether or not we can pull one off in a show.

Friday, September 24, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #1: Narrating

Rehearsal! Rehearsal! Rehearsal!

Rehearsals for our next show A Tale of Two Genres, an Improvised Dickens Musical started last Monday. I’ve been looking forward to this show for a long time, and not just because I haven’t done a show since Un-Scripted: unscripted closed back in March. This is a pretty unique show in the history of Un-Scripted and, in general concept, one we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Over the years, while selecting our seasons, we’ve longed to do a “genre combo” show. I’m not sure how it happened, or when it happened, but at some point, Un-Scripted developed a proficiency and an affinity for genre work. When we started getting “good” at genre work, we added an extra layer of complexity by doing “genre combos”. In truth, if I really wanted to trace the origins, it would go back to ideas Brian and Christian championed back in their days at BATS about having strong Theatresports personas that did entire shows in character.

In any case, genre combos became something of a specialty of ours. At first we’d combine two genres. Then we started adding more. Anything to keep things just harder than we were used to. But we could never figure out exactly how to turn the concept into an entire show. They just came up a lot in short-form shows or for “medium form” one-offs at festivals.

Now enter into the picture another show format that had been bandied about for years but never made the cut: Supertrain 1870. The idea was to do the Supertrain format set in the 1870’s. Why? Well, it would be an excuse to do something of a steampunk show without trying to market a steampunk show to people who don’t like steampunk. Or without wanting to label things as steampunk to avoid the inevitable backlash against steampunk as a genre.

Then a chance one-off show at a festival last year brought all of these elements together. One of the genres we (and I use “we” in the royal sense as I was not in this particular show) got was Dickens along with John Hughes and a few others I don’t remember. We had so much fun translating John Hughes into the Dickens era, the seed of a new format was born.

We’d do a show where we got a genre from the audience, and combine it with Dickens. It would scratch some of our steampunk itch (because after all steampunk is mostly translating modern technology backwards into Victorian England) and it would scratch our genre combo itch in a marketable form. Then we made it a musical to keep things just harder than we’re used to.

That’s what makes the show unique. Near as I can figure, this is the first full-on 3 hoop show we’ve ever done. (Ok, Bollywood seemed like it had a million hoops, but because Bollywood is inherently a musical genre, it was really just 2 hoops: Bollywood and puppets.)

After one rehearsal, the vast potential for fun only seems to be growing, but we’ve also seen how many challenges we have ahead of us. Our cast is solid, and I’m looking forward to playing with everyone. The first rehearsal involved a good amount of getting to know each other, warming up our brains and our voices, and ultimately tackling one of the first tools in our tool box: narration.

Dickens had a strong narrative voice. (I must confess my first-hand experiences reading Dickens are sorely lacking, especially considering I have a degree in Literature and performed at Dickens Faire for a season. I will have to correct that immediately.) Generally, narrated improv scenes involve a narrator telling the actors what to do and the actors doing it, with some push-back to create a semblance of give-and-take. This is completely different. This is backstory, physical description, commentary, and round-about metaphorical descriptions.

Eee gads, it was hard. I got up there for my first stab as a narrator and my brain froze. Immediately I did all of the things we had just been told not to do. Instead of talking for a long time, I barely talked at all. Instead of describing the characters and their relationships, I described what they were doing. I sucked.

The next time I got a little better, mostly by employing by employing what Brian used to call The Simpson’s Screaming Caterpillar Opening. The Simpson’s developed a style (as typified by the Screaming Caterpillar episode) wherein the show would start with some incident that ultimately had nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but in a round-about way set off the events of the episode. So I started rambling on about a tree growing somewhere in Scotland and eventually discovered how it related to the characters on stage and what they were doing. I’m not sure it was entirely Dickensian, but it got a good response.

For me, the challenge is going to be to jump and justify. Let my mouth go off about anything and trust I’ll find a way to loop it back around to what’s going on. It’s also going to be about reading a lot more Dickens very quickly to get a better ear for his prose.