Friday, October 12, 2007

Finding Improv Musicians (advice from Travis Ploeger)

One of BIG's troupes is looking to collaborate with a musician on a future project, so I asked the director of Washington Improv Theater's awesome iMusical for some advice. If you've never seen them perform you should definitely check it out -- they put together amazing shows. Travis kindly gave me permission to quote his excellent reply below:

I would first try to find any actors/improvisers that happen to play piano-
then find out if they also compose/write songs.

(My own background is as an actor/improviser. I went to a music
school, but to be a Broadway star, not a music director.)

If the pianist can successfully put themselves "in the shoes" of the actor
on stage, then it goes a long way. The ability to be a great pianist is
honestly not that important. Being able to quickly follow singers is a
skill that can be learned if someone is able to play competently- provided they
already have an ability to improvise music at the piano on their own. Most
songs usually have about 3 to 4 chords in them. The better the pianist,
the "dressier" those chord/progressions end up being.

If you can't find an improviser/actor that plays piano, the next place to
look would be an accompanist that has experience with accompanying live musical
theater, pref. somebody who also writes songs on their own and has a sense of
humor. They can borrow chord progressions from the catalog of past shows
they remember, if they can't come up with tunes and progressions on their

Interestingly, this advice matches what Neutrino told us when they trained us in their Neutrino Video Project techniques: it's better to teach improvisors how to film scenes than to teach camerapeople how to improvise.

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