The Top Four Questions We Get Asked About Hot Mic!, Cincinnati’s only full-length improvised musical
By Jon Ulrich
When we tell people about Hot Mic!, Cincinnati’s only full-length improvised musical, we sometimes get confused looks. While it is quite ambitious to come up with 90 minutes of a continuous story, with actual songs (yes, singing and live music) on-the-spot, it’s nothing that a group of dedicated improv performers can’t handle with practice, dedication, and collective imagination.
We’ve fielded lots of questions about Hot Mic! over the past few months. Below are some of the most common questions and our answers. Hopefully they’ll provide a good “behind-the-scenes” peek of what goes into our performances, and we’ll see you at the next show!
How many people does it take to pull off an improvised musical?
Hot Mic! usually averages around 8 performers, including our musical accompanists, EZ/DZ (Daniel Zimmer, piano. Delmar Davis, guitar). Musical improv groups can vary in size. TBD in Columbus recently featured a cast of 12. Baby Wants Candy even has a full band for their improvised songs! On the other end of the spectrum, Jill Bernard of HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis produces a full length one-woman show with just one drum machine for accompaniment.
Do you have to be a good singer to take part in an improvised musical?
The short answer is no. Musical improv is all about commitment -- commitment to the character’s emotion and motivation. Singing abilities or a musical theater background certainly don’t hurt, but if you can improvise, you can do musical improv. And, as IC co-founder Jon Ulrich discovered, once you get over the initial fear of trying it, the actual experience is incredibly fun!
Do you confer storylines during intermission?
We confer, but not around storylines. Typically we’ll remind one another of our character names and our character’s wants/motivations. We may decide what the first scene of the second act should be - otherwise it’s all improvised!
Here’s a little improv secret: by the time you are performing improv, the principles of improv are essentially second nature to you. We stick to the principles of listening and building on our teammates ideas. The rest of the musical takes care of itself.
What’s a typical rehearsal like?
In a normal performance team rehearsal, the coach/director will lead the ensemble in a warm up, do some exercises to develop certain skills, and run whatever format the team is performing. A Hot Mic! rehearsal is no different. We warm up, we run exercises to focus on certain skills (song structure, committing to relationships, improvised dancing, harmonizing, rhyming, etc) and then we’ll run a short musical that (hopefully!) demonstrates those newly cultivated abilities.
Musicals are a special medium of the performing arts in that, even if musicals aren’t your favorite thing to watch, chances are, there’s likely to be something in musical improv that resonates with you.