THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE:
A VIEW OF IMPRO FROM BEHIND THE PIANO
Today's guest blogger is Impro Melbourne's resident accompanist Panfred Reed.
At an Impro Melbourne show, tucked behind a keyboard, seated side of stage just near or occasionally even IN the audience, you’ll sometimes find Pan! And if you were to ask him, (him being me) I’d tell you that I’ve arguably got the best seat in the house. Because being the muso at an impro show is the oddly unique, extremely satisfying experience of simultaneously being both audience member and performer.
This hybrid role is unlike any because it allows you to not only watch the story, but be a part of it. Reading scenes, characters and offers, whilst also effecting change and interactively engaging with the energetic and tonal flow of the show, ALL without being on stage!
It’s almost more like playing a video game than seeing theatre, or being a dungeon master in D&D; there’s an odd sort of power that comes with the job. Feel the scene should go a little darker? Lighter? Want a character to feel scared, or empowered? Think it may be time for a scene to wrap up? You can make it all happen with music.
But as Spiderman’s uncle famously said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If I wanted every scene to slowly turn into a ’80s synth pop rave, I could theoretically make that happen! But it wouldn’t be a very good show, and I wouldn’t be a very good improviser, because ultimately the philosophy of the other improvisors on the stage is really the same for the muso behind the keys — it’s all about listening, making your partners look good and serving, above all else, the story.
I would be far from the first to say that music is one of the purest ways of evoking emotion. It has the ability to cut through to a person on a physiological level — think of a chorus in a song that sends a shiver down your spine! Music is able to express feelings and ideas where words cannot, travelling beyond the limited nature of language. It can be subtle, it can be direct, it can offer contrast and it can also offer nothing, leaving silence and space.
These are the things I am thinking about when I’m ‘scoring’ a scene. I’m looking for moments where I can elevate a character’s emotion, or imbue them with something; an idea, a repeating motif. I’m also looking for ways to ‘scene paint’ using music to describe the location, and transport the players and the audience to that place ('haunted carnival’ is my favourite).
All of this requires me to be listening to my fellow performers. When we are in sync with one another there is a harmony (like in music!) and a sense of play that starts to emerge, and when I come away from the shows, these are the moments that stay with me, and keep me coming back!
You can catch me next in our latest show, ‘The League of Extraordinary Storytellers,’ where dead authors return from the grave to tell one last tale! I will be doing my usual music thing, but with the new added dimension of being in character as legendary classical composer Frédéric Chopin!