I sometimes forget people don’t know me as a person when i do improv lessons. They don’t know that I love to find the funny in the random and do physical comedy and sometimes I catch them off guard. Sometimes this can create a lot of laughter – there is this moment when they realise what I said and laugh and thats the moment I love. Sometimes in lessons you can’t always show who you are as an improviser and when these moments arrive you do get laughs but at the same time you feel a bit of an idiot for doing it in the first place. This channel of physical and funny in the random has always been something that I have loved from the start and for all of the above I blame Matt Grant.
Ok, it is probably unfair to blame all on this on one person but if anything has driven me in the world of improv, it has been Matt Grant and his presence on stage. Noise Next Door as I have said time and time again opened my eyes to the comedy art form however Matt did something to raise the bar – he showed me that there was another way to improvise. The wacky outside the box side and something that I aspire to be everytime i perform. I find him a huge inspiration and everytime I do anything on stage i try and channel this physicality and forward thinking style.
This week was welcomed with the warm ups we do each week such as zip zap zop and passing beats around the circle. We did a few rounds of the song style that we did last week where you focus on verse and chorus – just to get us in the mindset of doing musical improv that week.
We then started to focus on changing the dynamics of the song format by adding a bridge chorus and verse to a song. This was done by 5 people being on stage and then the structure was this below:
To make this format work and to understand how it worked in a song and show, we did the song in the style of a charity single. We had to pretend that we are famous celebrities singing for a cause set up by the audience. So this could be anything like reading glasses for dolphins, Backpacks for hedgehogs etc.
This was both good fun to do and good fun to be a part of. The one I was a part of was Backpack for hedgehogs – for this single I got the part of the bridge. The one thing that I love to do in improv is to push myself to do something a bit different and decided to do a spoken word / rap. For my first attempt I think it went ok and didn’t come across to badly but i found it very different to doing a normal song. Going into a normal song I tend to have the last words of the lines sorted so its easer to improvise – but with the rapping, I found that I had to literally just go with the flow and see what happened.
The next exercise that we did a song that was in the style of a story – it would be about a person from the past and sort of told in a story format using the similar style of a verse, chorus and bridge – it would start of by introducing the profession and what there story was, there was then a chorus, then a problem in verse 3 and verse 4 was the resolution. So we hard Marty the Miller, Julie the Jouster etc.
When it came to my second song, I got a bit into the song. One thing i have noticed in our lesson that a few of us like doing a bit of backing vocals behind people when they are singing. I am one of those people and really enjoy it as i find it gives depth to the song. However from watching Whose Line is It Anyway and Matt Grant, i have learnt and been inspired by them to and add noise effects to scenes when I see fit as it heightens a scene. I did this in the one about a horse and i got a few laughs but a lot of the group looked at me wondering what the hell i was doing – i couldn’t help it, I saw an opportunity which i thought would create depth and went for it. Thats the thing about improv, some things work, some things don’t but how do you know if you don’t try them out – I always like to challenge myself to develop into the silly but sometimes I am not sure what others think.
The final thing that we did was start looking at scenes, we played out a few scenes to see where the music should come into a scene. We would not sing, but we would put our hand up when we thought a musical section would be suitable in that part of the scene and then had to explain why. We finished off the lesson doing a few more charity songs around the piano.
Case Study 1 – Ant Aid
When we got told that this week we were making up silly reasons to hold a charity song, there was one thing that popped instantly in my mind – Ant Aid. Back when I was a kid I loved loved LOVED Ant and Dec and used to watch SMTV religiously every Saturday. One of my favourite sections of the whole show was CHUMS (which was a rip off / parody of the television show FRIENDS). Now, one of my favourite episodes which i watch once in a blue moon even now, was one called Ant Aid, and this week i found it an inspiration.
In the episode of CHUMS, which was the 100th episode, Dec buys Ant a magic eye book to celebrate. Ant opens the book and it jams his eyes wide open and he cant blink his eyes at all and the only way to save his eyes it to raise “fifteen whole pounds” so Ant can have surgery to get his eyes to blink again. To help out, Dec gets a bunch of celebrities to sing a charity song called “Blink for Ant” and then it all gets revealed that Ant was playing a prank on Dec for such a rubbish present.
This silly little episode became my inspiration for this week – whilst its a really ridiculous storyline its a great one to watch for the charity song section because of the way that the celebrities react to the song. The whole thing about a charity song is you have to be serious and really mean what you are singing and this section in CHUMS is a great inspiration for improv charity songs because the lyrics are silly and whilst Ant Aid is not a real thing they really sell it. Thats what was so good about the Improv Charity song, when we got into it we all got really passionate about the silly topic such as let Pigs have swimming pools etc
Case Study 2 – Matt Grant
Last week it was revealed that Matt was leaving Noise Next Door to go into the world of Television and Film which in some ways wasn’t a surprise for me as he creates a lot of video content for the group and in some ways seems to me it was a natural step for him to go into as he is very creative and as a Video Editor in Television myself some of the more stylistic videos I have watched i have found inspiring and great to watch.
This week it feels only right to talk about Matt about a case study because I have learnt so much from him over the years and has been a truly huge inspiration to who I am now as an improviser. I have learnt so much from Matt and I think my love for physical Improv actually initially comes from Matt and his persona on stage (read this article here about “Jelly Legs” Matt as I called him before).
Whilst I have learnt a lot about improv from both training in Newcastle and London with some really top of the class names in the Improv scene (The Suggestibles, The Maydays, Steve Roe of Hoopla, Suki Webster) I find that I have learnt so much about character and physicality watching Matt on stage. He has taught me to think outside the box in a scene, how to bring creativity and interesting characters to a scene. I had a chance when I saw them in June last year to talk to him about improv as well as I was just diving into long form and i had a quick conversation with him about the transition and about the benefits of the style.
So whilst Matt may be saying farewell to the Improv scene for a while I want to let him go with a huge Improv Salute aimed his way to say thank you for everything you have done and for being one of the core reasons I try to bring as much creativity and characters that think outside the box to scenes and shows today.