30 March, 2015

The Music Improv

My babies are shiny geniuses.

Here is the evolution of this assignment:

In my actor-training course at Pace, our second-semester is all about working from the Outside-In (as opposed to first semester which focuses on working psychologically from the Inside-Out). The overall goal is to give students a strong base from which to create any kind of work, in any genre; to be armed with a huge box of tools so that by the end of the year one feels they possess skills to use regularly, sporadically, or, in certain situations, when they are simply "stumped."

The 'Music Improv' assignment begins with another assignment: the Urban Movement Improv. a one-hour solo observation of an urban environment, that abstractly translates into a silent, non-literal 3-minute movement piece that somehow encapsulates the entire experience (an exercise learned and modified from one of my greatest teachers and mentors Dr. David Montee of Interlochen Center for the Arts).

This exercise usually comes at a point in the school year when everyone’s “secrets” are out and have been touched upon, the trust is built, but no one has reeeeally gotten up and moved around so they are super awkward and self-conscious. BUT! What always emerges is a liiiiiittle *glimmer* of unselfconscious glory. Sometimes it is a few moments, sometimes just a gesture, but it is, crucially, there.

Everyone sits in a circle, and without speaking, they present their piece in the center of the circle one after the other silently communicating who shall go next...

Afterward everyone has shared their pieces, I go around the circle and talk to them about what that *glimmer* moment was, and very specifically identify it for each of them.

Then, they randomly divide into 4 groups of 3-4 people

... and I tell them to create a “piece” out of each of their *glimmer* moments

...using the theatrical forces of
  • spacing
  • timing
  • ripple effect
  • speed
  • density
  • unison 
  • or isolation
We transform the pieces as a class to see how the use of distance or speed (for example) could completely change the visual story.

Finally, I (verrrrry thoughtfully) split them into 5 groups (some groups have 2 people, some as many as 5). I assign each group a pre-selected piece of completely instrumental music, and give each group a simple theme based on the 5 senses: touch, sight, taste, etc.

They must somehow incorporate their theme
They have to use the ENTIRE piece of music (and some are REALLY long)
Every group member’s *glimmer* moment has to be incorporated, somehow
There is no pressure to tell a linear story
They have 5 days to create the piece
It should be about 50% planned, and 50% improvised
Remember that less is more

I’ve been doing this exercise since I led a class of my peers at Interlochen in 2002...

And this group presented the only Music Improv in the history of the exercise that literally made me gasp.
I was so shocked by its creativity, simplicity, incorporation (and enhancement!) of the "rules."
I was speechless.
So we filmed it.
Their theme was “taste.”

It is f**king INCREDIBLE.

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