Musical Improv: A Chat with Robot Teammate & The Accidental Party
Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party is a musical improv comedy troupe based in Los Angeles, CA, which creates spontaneous narrative musicals based solely on an audience suggestion of a Title. The team recently completed a World Record-setting 86-week cage match run in the Cherry Crush at iO West in Hollywood, winning over audiences with their accessible, energetic performances featuring entirely improvised music, lyrics, choreography, and multi-act story structure.
LMA asked RT+AP to discuss musical improvisation within the context of one of our shows. We selected “Nintendo Innuendo: The Musical!”, one of our 15-minute shows performed in the 73rd week of the cage match competition at iO West.
ROBOT KAT: What can I say about Musical Improv? Well, it’s pretty much the most fun thing ever. Audiences love it because it is more accessible than a Harold or other longform improv structures, especially when you do a narrative musical form like we do. Our musicals typically have a beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to creating one-off songs on a theme, and a lot of the comedy comes from allusions to existing musical theatre and other storytelling tropes.
ROBOT CHRIS: “Nintendo Innuendo” is an example of us having a lot of fun exploring characters that already exist and putting our own special twist on them. In popular video games, character relationships are often set up for the sole purpose of having gameplay challenges, but here we take these relationships, add motivations, and delve into the heart of their desires.
ROBOT NIKKI: Musical improv is unique in that the songs elevate the drama of the scene. It’s an opportunity to offer a window into the inner life of your character, and let the audience know what motivates you. A large part of having a successful show, in improv as well as acting in general, is choosing a character and committing fully to your choices. The more seriously you make the stakes of the scene, the funnier it can become.
ROBOT DAVE: Improv is very fast-paced, and a lot of improv shows can seem like the performers are focused on the next joke, the next game, the next scene. Because of the pace, it is difficult to invest in what is happening. Musical improv is much more character-driven.
ROBOT NIKKI: The songs should come from an inability to express an idea or emotion with mere words. Ideally, your character is feeling something so strongly they have no choice but to sing about it!
ROBOT BRYAN: Taking the leap into musical improv (something that still terrifies many of the best longform performers) can help build out your improv skill set. It will challenge your speed, your boldness, your body control, your listening, editing, groupmind and much more. You may also find, after practicing musical improv, that your regular longforms feel easier!
ROBOT KAT: I’m a big believer that all improvisers, regardless of singing ability, can benefit from trying musical improv out!
ROBOT BRYAN: It certainly can be intimidating to step out and sing a song that has yet to be written. The most difficult part can be conquering your fears and being bold. But you don’t need to be a singer, necessarily. Matt Jones aka Badger from Breaking Bad fame performs with Opening Night: The Musical (also at iO West). His voice is raspy and he doesn’t have great range, but he’s fully committed and a brilliant scene-writer and editor, and I consider him one of their funniest and most dynamic performers.
ROBOT KAT: We’ve gelled very tightly with our musical director, Sam Johnides, so he knows our vocal strengths and can set us up just like a good scene partner would volley a joke. We rehearse a variety of song structures (AABA, ABABCB, etc.) and song types (Want Song, Philosophy Song, Marathon Song, etc.), but usually don’t discover what form we are using until after the song has begun. That requires a lot of trust within our ensemble, and forces us to be creative and committed in our choices.
ROBOT CHRIS: Very true. For example in this musical, Donkey Kong (played by Dave Reynolds) sings a “Want Song” about love. Dave puts his own spin on the idiom “monkey see, monkey do” in the chorus, singing, “Monkey see, monkey want you.” A lot of the physical comedy in this show is pulled directly from the Nintendo universe, such as the the barrel throwing of Donkey Kong and the elongated spring jumps of the Mario Brothers, which was a fun way to add dimension to the story.
ROBOT NIKKI: By having a clear idea of their character’s choices and wants, the players can create a coherent show with real stakes. It’s a great gift and challenge to figure out a character’s motivation, dreams, and life philosophy within a scene, but it also helps to give immediate shape and structure to a show.
ROBOT KAT: And there are so many different musical styles that are a blast to explore! We have improvised with guitar, piano, melodica, beat boxing, and a capella arrangements. Some songs are folk-y, while others are dark and epic. It’s an endless well of inspiration, and once you add dancing, people are surprisingly impressed.
ROBOT BRYAN: And you don’t have to perform musical improv to practice with your team! Games like Beastie Rap and Sound Bomb can help you in all facets of your improv career.
Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party is Chris Bramante, Bryan Cain, Miles Crosman, Molly Dworsky, Sam Johnides, Nikki Muller, Kat Primeau and Dave Reynolds.