The Fine Arts of Screaming & Making Stuff Up:
Insights from Two Performing Arts Practices
Today's guest blogger is long time Impro Melbourne student and professional opera singer Kimberley Colman.
The worlds of classical singing and impro may seem pretty far apart, and in many regards they are. The most
obvious difference (apart from pitch and decibel) being the fact that in classical singing you spend hours
practicing the same pieces over and over again to perfect them, some may even have been written hundreds of years ago and sung many times before; whereas in impro a scene will come and go ephemerally, never to be seen or heard from again. The two do however share some commonalities.
Method to Madness
Learning the techniques of your trade (whether it be the fine art of screaming or the fine art of making stuff up) will take you through the four stages of competence. If you were ever a novice and you went to watch an opera or an impro show, you might have had a hazy idea that the performers must have been working to a certain set of rules somehow, but you probably had no idea how they actually made all that happen. Technique will go from something you don’t know about and don’t have; to something you do know about and don’t have; to something you gain more of; to something you’ve subsumed into your system and might not realise you’re doing anymore. Good teachers and mentors will model recognising patterns and problem solving to help you build technique. The particularly great thing about impro is that the techniques you learn are really great general life skills!
In both impro and singing listening is a central tenet. Listening becomes a whole body and mind tuning in process. Listening to the shifts in rhythm and harmony, listening to your scene partner, listening to your teacher. Listening is calibration (see above: ‘really great general life skills’).
Give Your Partner (and yourself) a Good Time
Classical singing can be gruelling, with many musical and technical challenges, as well as multiple languages to contend with, not to mention you’re constantly being scrutinised, evaluated, and compared to other singers. My teacher once gave me an unexpected piece of advice. I can’t remember exactly what I was working on at the time - a questionable cadenza, a quick cluster of German consonants, or spending most of the song dreading a difficult passage I knew was coming up – but instead of the usual drills and exercises, she took her hands off the keyboard and advised me that even through all the technical and musical difficulty you should still remain connected to something that feels in some way viscerally pleasurable. If not, you’re just having a bad time and your audience probably aren’t faring much better. For me this idea seems connected to the impro tenet of ‘giving your partner (and yourself) a good time’, and one of my favourite ways that impro does this is through reconnecting with playfulness, because it feels good!