[Editor's Note: Once a month we have a producer or artistic director take you behind the scenes, into the rehearsal process, and backstage to illuminate more the of Broadway's Next Hit Musical process. This month it's co-artistic director, co-producer, and cast member Rob Schiffmann]
There is a moment when your scene has achieved its narrative goal: the musician has begun to underscore with music that supports the current tone of the scene, the dialogue ceases and we are all aware that it is time to sing. This moment is a pivotal one in which you must make deep and profound choices as an improviser that will effect the success of your song, your narrative, your show and perhaps, your entire life! (Okay, maybe not that last bit.)
It is so tempting in that moment to start the process of idea generation. You ask yourself what is this song about, what shall I sing about, what structure of song should I attempt? All of these questions - and many more like them - are natural questions to ask. You are in a situation that seemingly demands creativity. People have (most likely) paid to see your show and there is a feeling that they have come with the expectation that you are going to entertain them and make them laugh. I do not agree with this.
In fact, they have come to see you - whether you know it or not - to see if you are really willing to put yourself on the tight rope. And for how long are you willing to stay up there.
And so, the questions you are asking yourself are the wrong ones. These questions beg for a safety net.
If I know what my song is about, I can easily sing it. If I know what my first line is going to be, I can easily follow it up. If I know what structure to fit into, I can easily adapt to that.
The problem with all of these statements is that they take away the essence of improvisation: discovery. You MUST be in a place where you are discovering choices AS THEY HAPPEN and then realizing the ramifications of those choices in the moments they happen as well. It's a moment to moment thing. You use your technique NOT to preselect these choices but to see them as they are happening. Then to recognize them for what they are. Then, potentially nudge them into whatever structure, story, or lyric they suggest.
So, the next time that you find yourself in that moment when your scene has achieved its narrative goal, the musician has begun to underscore with music that supports the current tone of the scene, the dialogue ceases and you are well aware that it is time to sing - quiet your mind. Instead of making choices, quiet your mind.
Do what we were all designed to do in this tricky little moment: TRULY LISTEN!