Monday, October 1, 2018

Jill Bernard's "Drum Machine"

Another post following a performance viewing experience!

On Wednesday night, Kris and I went out to catch Jill Bernard's "Drum Machine" at HUGE Improv Theater, and I'm really glad we did! The gist of this performance scheme is that the improvisor takes a topic suggestion from the audience (as is common in improv) and then works one on one with a pianist to turn it into a musical on the fly. If this sounds amazing . . .

This clearly isn't something just any improvisor can do. Speaking from the standpoint of a (jazz) dance improvisor, I can say this with confidence. It's one thing to feel comfortable enough to make up some movement on the fly. It's another for it to feel cohesive with the sound, the aesthetic at hand, and the movement being in-the-moment selected. The same really rings true here. It's one thing to make up some lyrics on the fly. It's another for them to follow a catchy tune and be in key and modulate with the pianist. And that's just the musical aspect. It was a whole 'nother ballgame for her to make it all humorous and to track with the topic. And the topic this time around was the Spanish Armada.

Talk about intellect and wit! You have to be encyclopedic to manage creating a humorous musical on the fly about the SPANISH ARMADA. Beyond this, it was a true pleasure to witness the thought process of Jill and the accompanist. It's so fascinating to watch humans think and perform at the same time. This is not to say there were moments where I found myself thinking "Oh, she really looks like she's processing right now . . .," but it is to say that to me, it feels like part of the electric energy that makes any kind of improv so interesting. To do and to view.

Apparently this concept used to be the performer and a drum machine for music (thus the title), though she has now moved to using piano accompaniment, even when she travels. She'll ask the community she's in for a recommendation on a piano player, and says that it's worked out every time - a totally heartening thing! I think I'd love to see the original concept with the drum machine some time too, as seeing the performer generate the accompanying sound as well would just be a trip.

In short (which this has to become because it's time to do other work!), witnessing the musical-comedic-improv prowess of this on-the-fly performance was utterly captivating. I'm grateful to live in a community where such awesome performance is happening all the time, including on a Wednesday night in September! Cheers, Jill.

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