By completely removing the potential for speech, Soundtrack serves as the perfect remedy for excessive Telling on the improv stage.
I’ve primarily experienced this game with a highly adept technician ably moving from one lush musical score to another, but it can surely work with an equally equipped live musician providing the accompaniment. A fully pantomimed scene occurs with this dynamic underscore changing periodically throughout the action to accentuate major discoveries and narrative tilts.
“Bakery” informs the action. Player A begins alone onstage accompanied by a sleepy melancholic musical strain. With ingrained precision they place their wares in the various display cases until everything is “just so.” With one last look into the store, they approach the front door, unlocking the bolt and flipping the hanging sign to “open.”
The music immediately shifts into an up-tempo industrial feel. Customers, embodying the bustle and rhythm of the soundtrack, rush into the store. Player A retreats to the counter, watching as their cherished loaves and cakes are unceremoniously grabbed and pushed towards the register. One customer after another demands and receives attention. And in another swirl, they are gone.
And the music changes once more as a solitary figure, Player B, stands in silhouette at the baker’s door. The soundtrack is now a sweet ballad full of hope and promise. Player A lovingly straightens the goods around them without losing sight of their beloved who floats between the various shelves displaying a care and appreciation absent from the insatiable hunger of the prior store occupants. And then their eyes meet...
Tell a detailed story through experiencing and showing your choices and feelings. In lieu of dialogue, make sure you’re activating your whole body to communicate your character’s hopes and fears.
Traps and Tips
1.) Use the music. Unlike similar formats that expect a more avowedly dance-like quality, Soundtrack doesn’t typically result in epic balletic numbers. But that being said, the music should influence your movement even if this is in more subtle ways. Let the rhythms and tempos infuse your activities and staging. Embrace a more stylized movement vocabulary. One of the advantages of using recorded and familiar stock pieces is that improvisers may be able to predict and subsequently honor significant shifts and builds. And while the base language is mime rather than dance, this doesn’t mean that our baker and their beloved couldn’t have a moment of dance (imagined or real) as part of the rising action.
2.) Use the music. In addition to rhythmic cues, the ever-changing soundtrack should also provide rich subtext gifts. Without the tools of language, the music should fill in this gap for the characters and relationships. (It generally works best not to “pretend” talk but rather just create scenarios in which the characters choose not to communicate with words as their emotions are just that strong.) Let the specific instruments stand in for specific characters and their streams of consciousness. Typically, accompaniment without lyrics is preferable as this permits the beautiful musical equivalent of specific ambiguity. Even if the melody remains similar for a while, listen closely for subtle or not so subtle shifts in the dynamics or instrumentation as it’s truly breathtaking when we can see an honest embodiment of what we are also hearing.
3.) And use the music. Lastly, the musical transitions are a big gift that should be fully exploited. Ideally, the technical or musical improviser will pitch these shifts at opportune moments in the action when the characters are ready to explore a new energy or facet. But even (especially) if the timing catches you off guard, don’t passively cling to your prior tone and choice. Quickly assess the overall mood of your new subtextual accompaniment and risk changing something onstage accordingly. If you’re offstage, a sudden energy shift can inspire and frame truly effective entrances (and exits, too, for that matter if you’ve previously been onstage). You don’t want to throw out what you’ve created – combine rather than replace – but don’t be afraid of some strategic character consistent inconsistency. Try something new, then figure out how to justify it.
There are literally only a handful of improv scenes that I can vividly recall seeing from my teenage years. A group of Canadian improvisers toured New Zealand in the late 1980s and placed their technical improviser onstage with a comprehensive array of cued cassette tapes (remember those?) lining several tables. As a Gothic romance occurred on a cliff top, the sound improviser brilliantly shifted from one musical mood to the next without missing a beat, while the other improvisers similarly changed emotions and plot points on a dime (or, allowing for the conversion rate, a twenty-cent piece in the vernacular of my home country!) I think I’ve been chasing that level of physical and technical dexterity ever since.
This format shares a great deal of creative territory with Ballet minus the utilization of a narrator figure. Review this Game Library entry here for additional pertinent insights.
Connected Concept: Telling