This guest article is by Debbie Stanley.
If you think you couldn’t possibly write song lyrics off the top of your head, in front of a live audience, and sing them too, well…yes, you could. And Kacey Samiee would love to teach you how.
Samiee teaches musical improvisation – improv for short – at the Hideout Theatre on Congress south of 7th. The Hideout is both a performance venue and school where improvisers of all ages learn to invent and act out stories without scripts, often based on suggestions called out by the audience during live shows, and reading each other’s cues in the moment. Performers work together to build narratives, develop fictional relationships, and, in Samiee’s classes, set it all to music.
Founding Member of Austin’s First Musical Improv Troupe
Back in the early 2000s, when Samiee and some enthusiastic friends founded the still active troupe Girls Girls Girls, there was improv in Austin, but not yet set to music. She lovingly describes those first few shows as “a train wreck of noise,” which audiences enjoyed for their exuberance, but which needed some sort of framework for players to work within, just like standard improv.
That framework didn’t yet exist in Austin or even in books or on the Internet, she says, “so I helped make it up. It actually took us a very long time to become good at the craft and to figure out how to do it, the rules and guidelines, to come up with a foundation that allows you to make [music] up on the spot well.”
After more than 10 years of learning both how to do it and how to teach it, Samiee is still energized by the endeavor: “To be one of the people who created the foundation of something that I believe will be very important and potentially a very huge thing in Austin is really pretty exciting.”
Samiee knows from experience that putting yourself out there as an improv performer is tough enough and she empathizes with the extra dose of stage fright that comes with adding music. After several years of improv experience, she recalls, “I remember showing up onstage for the first time to do musical improv and suddenly realizing that it was one of the more terrifying things I could have shown up to do.”
Much of her curriculum is designed to help students overcome that obstacle, giving them strategy and practice that build their confidence and make it less gut-wrenching to take the stage and belt out songs that pop into their heads literally seconds before they’re sung.
Austin by Choice
Of Austin’s many nicknames, Samiee resonates most with “The Velvet Rut.” “I think that’s true, and I’m not mad about it,” she says. “I think it’s a lovely place to get stuck.”
She grew up in Colorado and Alabama, then moved to Texas and has since experienced New York and Chicago. She appreciates that Austin so far avoids the qualities that characterize truly big cities. “There are so many individual, wonderful communities,” Samiee says.
“There’s the improv community, which grew like wildfire, and the people are wonderful and lovely, and then there’s the yoga community which is also enormous now and expansive, and the film industry is growing now, which is, you know, my dreams come true. It’s hard NOT to get involved in something that immediately wants to include you and suck you in, and you make friends and then, you know, there’s good food around the corner and it’s always sunny. And I love the heat. I am a lizard, I’ll sit on a rock in 105 degrees and love it.” -Kacey Samiee
Samiee gets her performance fix these days as a member of a “dystopian cabaret” called Indigo Shift. After many years of working with large female-only ensembles, she’s loving this tiny, mixed gender project.
Indigo Shift shows are improvised, but with recurring characters, which allows for elaborate costuming, more complex narratives and songs, and more highly developed interaction with one another and the audience. “It really catches people’s attention and even throws them off-guard sometimes, especially outside of Austin,” Samiee says. “We’re pretty unusual.”
Traveling with Indigo Shift to play festivals as far away as Hawaii and Alaska gives her that much more perspective to bring back to her students. “I’m happy here,” Samiee asserts. “I’d rather make all my opportunities happen here, because Austin is flourishing. It’s growing even though it’s very small.”
The Hideout is constantly abuzz with new students and new shows. Find out more about their offerings, including musical improv with Kacey Samiee, at HideoutTheatre.com.
Debbie Stanley, president of Thoughts In Order, helps clients in the music industry and beyond to get and keep their act together.
Have you ever attended a musical improv show?