Improvisation methods

As opera improviser I make choices all the time. Even though the time for evaluation and choice is often very limited – often parts of a second – many aspects need to be considered. My goal is to create music drama inside the communication, that is, the meeting point between impulses from the other actors, the audience, and myself. In order to do this I need certain guidelines, and the most central one is to respect the other actors in the communicative situation, by the use of common agreements and rules of play. These agreements and ’rules’ are articulated in terms of set ups for games, dramaturgy, musical styles and musico-dramatic interaction. They are shared, yet constantly being re-negotiated within the collaborative context. In order for this to happen in performance, it is very important that the levels of joint concentration, focus and group listening are as high as possible. Below follow some examples of how a session can be designed.

Warming –up: communication and concentration
In the ensemble, it is often decided on beforehand who will lead the rehearsal. We start each rehearsal session with a joint set of exercises. This way of working differs to a great extent to repertoire rehearsals, where it is very rare to start with joint exercises. On occasions we work with external coaches, as for instance physical actor, director and clown Camilla Persson.

‘Come’                                                 Communication
Everyone stand in a ring. A makes eye contact with B, who replies ‘come’, thereby inviting A to take their place. In order for B in turn to have a new place she or he needs to make eye contact with someone else, who in turn carries out the same procedure in order to get a new place.

‘Three things’                                  Spontaneity and association
Everyone stand in a ring, saying ‘Three things’ at the same time, while putting the palms of their hands on their knees twice. A directs focus versus B in the ring and points with their arms, while at the same time continuing the phrase freely out of choice, for instance ‘… that you (eye contact and gesture) would like to do tomorrow?’ B quickly replies by naming three things out of choice, real or imaginary. Then all the participants repeat the joint phrase, whereas B makes contact with C, and continues the sentence in another way, for instance ‘…that you could do if you had all the power in the world’, and so on. 

‘Chains’                                                Concentration och communication
The participants stand in a ring. A starts a ‘chain’, by making eye contact with B and saying something, on a theme out of choice. B makes eye contact with C and says something else on the same theme. This continues until the last participant in the circle turns to A, to close the chain. Then someone else starts a new chain on another theme, thereby creating a new chain where the participants have a set place in relation to each other. The chains are then carried out at the same time, and the participants need to be focused on repeating the patterns within the chains every time, even though they occur in parallel layers. And we often do four chains or more at the same time.

‘I am’                                                     Association and portrayal
A walks into the middle and makes a solo, creating a living image by taking a position out of choice, saying/singing ‘I am a…’ The chosen word could be anything – such as a thing, a person, an emotion or an event. The others fill in the picture by choosing positions and words, following their own associations. If it is a version in music, ensemble or tutti parts follow when all have entered.  This exercise is often used in order to create stage images and depicting space, with a ‘singing choreography’.

Give and take                                  Communikation and portrayal
All the singers expect for the leader of the exercise participate on the floor as the pianist plays. The leader says a number out loud, which is the number of singers moving in the space at the same time. It is not decided who will move, but this is constantly being negotiated by the singers, giving and taking initiative to movement. The goal is that the participants take joint responsibility in the space, shifting between an individual, inner perspective in relation to the others and an outer visual perspective, perceiving how the whole group is moving. This exercise can be made with and without singing.

Musical and stage rehearsals
We create scenes where we work both with musical and dramatic aspects of improvisation, focusing a certain musical style, composer, or genre. We work with using the inspiration and experience we have from work within a repertoire context with the style at hand, varying it in order to make the improvisations work. The work deals with identifying, articulating and creating performative frames for how to move on stage and in music, how to relate to each other and how to create a narrative trajectory in the style at hand. This is done in order to create space for interaction in a setting where the improvisers feel safe inside common agreements, yet free to break them when needed in the moment.

How to make an aria, a duet, or a choir in a certain style? We often listen to repertoire examples from the musical style at hand, discussing how the choir is used in a Verdi opera scene, or the tessitura on a Bach recitative. In some concepts, such as Mozart in Town, OI has chosen to be inspired by operas by Mozart in the creation of whole operas.