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  • Writer's pictureJenny Wynter

Solo Improv Learnings Thus Far!

Above: I got invited to attend a red-carpet premiere of a new film which my very talented friend Natasha Perez wrote a song for!

This trip is made possible thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust, a wonderful organisation which supports early career artists to pursue professional development opportunities, usually overseas. During my time here I shall be posting about some of my learnings in my private sessions with Gary Austin and Michael Pollock respectively.

Above: My improv comedy and acting mentor, Mr Gary Austin. I adore him. This was taken last night outside The Groundlings Theatre, LA.

Days are filled with coaching and homework, nights are filled with going to see a many improv shows (and where I can manage it, extra classes!) as possible. I have been learning so much amazing stuff, seriously, even by day three I honestly felt as though the entire trip had already fulfilled my goals and then some. In short, here are a few tid-bits:

– the importance of physicality and not being “vague” with gestures and so on. Gary got me to do an exercise where I spoke lines of dialogue while mirroring his gestures (which, while having NO connection whatsoever to the words I spoke, somehow naturally ended up finding a connection anyway.) In short, making arbitrary but COMMITTED choices to physicality, not only looks better onstage, but can inspire completely unexpected choices when it comes to the verbal!

– assymetrical physicality is visually pleasing (i.e. hand on one hip, leaning on one leg, etc.) rather than standing straight with hands by sides and both legs straight.

– that good improvisation is a matter of committing to the unknown. That is to say, giving up the need to control everything onstage and instead being committed even in your lostness. In fact, Gary goes so far to say that “if you’re completely lost in what you’re doing, then you’re a great improviser.”

I have reams and reams of “Gary-isms” that I’ve scrawled down, which I will share in the coming days on here!

Above: An improv hip-hop show I saw at UCB which was JAW-DROPPING. I loved it so much, I was utterly inspired to bring some hip-hop musical improv (maybe some solo and/or group stuff?) to Oz!

Then there have been my solo sessions with Michael Pollock. Oh how I connect with that man! It was my hubby Tim, many moons ago, who read the intro to Michael’s book on musical improv, and said to me “Oh my goodness Jen. I just feel like you NEED to work with this man!”

Damn straight.

Okay, gushing aside, let me try to summarise some of the major learnings thus far:

– digging deeper for a stronger choice right at the top of a solo musical improv number, to set yourself up for success. For instance, if the suggestion from the audience is “dentist”, starting with a line like “I hate the dentist” is okay, but not the strongest choice, mainly because it’s expected (who doesn’t?). A better choice is something a little unexpected that sets you up for the rest of the song e.g. “I’m in love with Doctor Danny,” and then go on to use relevant vocabulary (e.g. “the way he holds the drill,” “his gas makes me dizzy like his love…” and so on.)

– to be aware of variation vocally and physically throughout. For instance, if a number has been quite dark and/or low-key for much of it, it’s a much stronger choice to finish it strong, let it crescendo and sell the ending.

– we’ve also been working on some chord progressions on piano that I can use to extend my range. It is HARD! But Michael is working with me to develop some drills that I can take with me back to Australia to continue to work on regularly. He reckons that within a couple of months of practice, I should have it down, which is fantastic.

I am so ridiculously inspired right now, particularly with regards to putting these solo improv skills into practice as soon as I get back. My mind is a-whirl with possibilites right now. I just need to calm down and enjoy the possibilites before me right here right now. Just like in improv. Funny that.

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