Saturday, January 27, 2018

Last VAMP at MCL

They went out in smiles and cheer celebrating their success. This was the last performance of VAMP at MCL Chicago. MCL Chicago is closing the end of the month.

This is not the end, rather the journey that must be continued and fought for. The show must go on! There will be life after MCL Chicago. I know they know that. Yet one cannot help but feel sorrow. It is like an empty feeling you get when you hit the unemployment line. Reality can sink in. Have no fear because Music Improv is where it's at and of the people who perform it.

I really do not think of it as MCL closing. It is branching out to new locations. An explosion of talent took place here that is bursting out in many directions. A music improv supernova! The only art of its kind in Chicago, now ready to branch out through Chicago and beyond.

Tonight's ensemble:

Brandon C. Price

Keenan Camp

Reeny Hofrichter

Lou Leonardo

Michael Jordon

Alex Garday

I have photographed that wall many times, that it does make it difficult to believe this is the last photograph. Who knows, maybe I will take up yoga.

Whenever I go into a new situation I go in humble. I show my strengths and my weaknesses. Over time my strengths become hardfast and polished. My weaknesses become new strengths, and I value change that creates new weaknesses. Though this is my cycle, and perhaps others, these music improvs have it a little different, which I envy.

Watching these six music improvs (and the band), they are humble every time they walk onto the stage. I believe they take that for granted. For them to do music improv they have to play on their strengths and let out their weaknesses every performance. This cycle repeats and they become stronger each night they perform. Yet they start at being humble and true to themselves. They expose all of their emotions to us, for that is how we believe in them.

A great writer once wrote (and I say that tongue and cheek), “Improv is very inviting. All you to do is sit there and watch, however, you cannot help but feel you are participating too. More than just giving the improv a topic. At least that is how I felt with the improv ensembles who performed this evening. You smile not just because it is entertaining. You smile because you see yourself up on stage. You smile because you want to be just like them.”

So with that, you music improvs of VAMP (and all of the other ensembles at MCL), please know you are as much in our hearts as we are in yours. Thank you for being humble, opening up to us, letting us see your vulnerability and your strengths, for that is what helped us connect and want to come back each time.

So with that, here are the photographs from this evening (with some more quotes from that great unknown writer) . . . okay, may he is not so humble after all . . . lol

Another old quote from that great unnamed writer, “This evening I have come to the conclusion that music improv is like a great band. You need to know your fellow member, listen to each other's specific note, and observe every little gesture. You must be in rhythm. In fact I think bands, great bands, groups of musicians, should take music improv to understand what becoming an music improv / band means. The synergy found through study of music improv can take a band beyond their expectation. Don't limit it there, because it applies everywhere.”

Another quote from that unknown writer of past music improv performances, “I am observing what a music improv is. An music improv is a person who wants to feel alive. An music improv is a person who wants to touch people. Not in a physical sense touch people. To touch by connection in thought, word, action, to share a dream with you that they are inspiring to create. This leads to many things . . . many things.”

Another from that unknown writer of past music improv performances, “I see now from watching music improv what music improv is. With a group of people it is teamwork. It is cuing, a stimulus from your fellow improv. It is creative license that has to be approved by the alien creative license bureau. It is having no fear of failure, because in improv, Who's to know? It is having a quick mind, a vast source of situational training, automatic response to so some things, and creative problem solving on others.”

Another quote from, well you know, “Music improv is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Each wrapped very similar, yet tasting different. You treat each piece as your last one, because you never know when the next delightful one will come. Could be the next piece. Could be the next box. Could be . . .”. Well, I am here to tell you that writer was full of it. Each piece in the frick’n box was good, and so was the next box, and the . . . To note, music improv is that damn center of the candy that you cannot get enough of!!!

Anicdote time . . .

"As I walked in I first saw Courtney, then later Keenan. They took part in my very first improv I went to see. So it was like homecoming to me. I was having a blast. They had their JAM tonight after all the ensembles had their time up front. During one of the sessions I was volunteered to go up on stage. It was Keenan who graciously did that. (Him, no the photographer, [as I feel the finger pointing at me from behind].) So, here I go, up to the stage with the other improvs, never doing improv before, with two large cameras strapped to me. Funny thing was, I was not nervous at all. (Had my cameras as my security blanket.) All I was thinking, "what can I photograph from 'on stage'". Then it hit me, I was up there to do something with the improvs. As I listened in I felt the realization of what these actors do. This is quick, head spinning, non-rehearsed, better know what you are doing and know your fellow improv kind of moment. It was a very interesting feeling being up there, contributing when I could, finding myself zoning into photography because of panic of what to do.

I felt like a prop. A very Thrilled Prop! My mind was absorbing the moment, blank in anticipation, tuned to just now. I knew whatever I would do, I would photograph. So feeling like a sloth I blurted out (holding everyone's attention while I put my one line out there), "Hey dad, stop! Let me take your picture." 

I was on stage feeling their passion. Improvs love doing what they do. It is to put a smile on our face. It is to make us laugh. It is to give us an experience we can go back to our friends and talk about. It is also to push one self to do what you have not done before, like any athlete, wanting to make it to the next level.

As I write this I feel my passion is not just the photography. It is sharing with everyone both photography and my feelings of the moment. The writing becomes part of that. The digging deep inside becomes part of that. In many ways I am not much different than anyone else who has a passion. Yet, these improvs I feel set themselves apart in some way. Being on stage gave me a glimpse of their reality. It was so cool. I sit back and watch the videos I took, and I reflect on the talent of these people. The desire to learn, to experience, to practice what all they can in an environment that is improv. In this case Music Improv!!!!"

"What is improv? Improv is having fun, interacting with the audience, creating a setting, working with other improvs. Improv is great! Improv will make you laugh. Improv will also may you cry and pee your pants. Improv draws you in, a wanting to coach the improv with the next idea you want them to portrait. You interact as an audience member without knowing you are interacting.

Most of all, improv is a person, an ensemble, a meeting with the audience to rant on life in an enjoyable way. To let go the stress of the day, stress of life. Improv is personal, both to the improvs and to the audience. There is not just one story being told. There is a story for each individual in the room being told.

When you add music, you have Music Improv! A dimension to improv that can only be explained as, Wow! This high level attention, slamming the audience with energy that exhausts you just sitting there, can spin your head. You go home in a daze wondering what just hit you. Music improvs are doing the impossible in my opinion."

Okay, it is not like it looks. Two tadpoles swimming around and one finds he has grown up and has legs. Well, okay, maybe it is like it looks . . .

Mr. Hand stayed behind the pole most of his part. Here he ventured out to meet Lou.

There were a few Michael Bolton moments this evening. Here is what took place this time.

I wrote this blog and included quoted from past MCL Chicago blogs, just not for VAMP but for everyone who has performed here at MCL Chicago. When I started coming to MCL Chicago I saw improvs crafting their art. Music improv is beyond improv. There is so much more dimension to it and you really have to be good to pull it off. To be good enough you needed to be somewhere to hone your craft. Hence Studio BE which was later renamed to MCL Chicago. I may have an advantage having attended performances sporadically over five years. I recognize their growth. Early they were a bit rough around the edges. The flow, the interaction between ensemble members was not quite smooth. I see the improvement from then to now. Tonight I saw an orchestrated performance, that yes had a couple Michael Bolton moments, however was very well crafted from each individual, in a music improv way that blows your mind when you understand that this has never been done before nor ever scripted. It is off-the-cuff pull from your gut performance that you would swear has been repeated time and time again.

The connection I have with music improv comes from Stephanie and Keenan. Thank you both for letting me in from the rain to practice my art of photography, and to fill that emptiness to make one whole. I also thank those from WhoProv, and all that performed at MCL

The people who striven to give a home to music improvs so that they could perform are:

Stephanie McCullough

Michael Jordon

Alex Garday

Thank you for being you.

Support the arts. Find what works and fits with you, and continue. We need the arts to allow us to see, to listen, to taste, to make us human. I am fortunate that I can combine my art of photography with the many other arts. I have enjoyed these past five years of music improv.

"What is improv without music?" - Stephanie

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