‘Whose Line?’ pianist Laura Hall and her husband Rick Hall will perform Sunday with local improvisational actors
Laura Hall found it difficult to focus on waiting tables at The Second City, home to Chicago’s famous improvisational comedy troupe.
Ms. Hall, a pianist and college music student at the time, was distracted by a pro on stage who invented how music goes with improv.
“I was a terrible waitress,” the Chicago native and resident told the News-Press. “I was supposed to be serving drinks, but I was listening to him, getting totally distracted. I was learning from a master, just by absorbing.”
Hanging out with Ms. Hall after work, Second City members learned of her talent at the piano, and without having to audition, she was invited to join The Second City on its tours, during which she improvised music on the spot.
Improvisational comedy sketches mean actors working without a net. There’s no script, and anything can happen.
Likewise, on the Second City tours in the 1980s, Mrs. Hall, at the piano, would improvise anything that would be needed at a moment’s notice before an audience. She didn’t know what to expect.
That set the stage for her career on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the improvisational TV show where she’s the musical director and the keyboardist improvising melodies for the actors as they improvise the lyrics.
Mrs. Hall will demonstrate her talent at the piano when she and her husband, improvisational actor Rick Hall, perform with local improvisational actors at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Alcazar Theatre, 4916 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria.
The couple are also teaching sold-out improvisational workshops Sunday and Monday on the South Coast.
And Mrs. Hall, who earned her music degree in 1984 at Loyola University Chicago, is looking forward to Sunday’s show.
“What’s fun is we’ll be meeting the people we’re improvising with that afternoon,” she told the News-Press Friday.
“I love playing with people l know well. They’re easy to read because we play together for a long time, like the cast on ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’” Mrs. Hall said. “But I also like playing with people I don’t know, and I don’t know what to expect.”
She said because she’s been doing improvisational music for a long time, she has developed a vocabulary when called upon to play a particular genre. “What kind of music would go with a mystery? I have an idea about the genre going in.”
The notion of improvising music sounds like jazz, and Mrs. Hall said there are similarities.
“But it’s also different from jazz. In most jazz, unless it’s super free, you’re working within a set chord progression, improvising within that chord progression,” she said, adding that jazz musicians also know their song’s melody.
“Whereas with improv, you don’t know those elements ahead of time,” Mrs. Hall said. “You might start out with a Western, then all of sudden you’re film noir. WIth most improv, you don’t know the structure or form when you’re playing a scene.”
Improvisational comedy features games that challenge actors. One well-known game is “New Choice,” in which an actor says a line, then a director tells the actor, “New Choice,” meaning the actor must come up with another line.
When this game is played, the lines naturally keep getting funnier.
Mrs. Hall said she expects the actors on Sunday will play a musical version of “New Choice.” So an actor might be told to sing like a soprano, then sing like a bass, or sing like an opera singer.
“Or to tap dance while you’re doing it,” Mrs. Hall said.
She said the more structured musical games on “Whose Line?” are the end–of-the-show “Hoedown” and the “Irish Drinking Song,” in which one actor sings a line, then the next actor must sing another line that rhymes with it.
“Whose Line?” is also known for its “Greatest Hits” segments, during which Wayne Brady must sing a song with funny titles made up by fellow stars Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles. At her keyboard, Mrs. Hall instantly creates the music, accompanied by longtime “Whose Line?” guitarist Linda Taylor, and Mr. Brady instantly improvises the lyrics.
Mrs. Hall said her favorite moments include Mr. Brady’s duets with Jeff Davis or Chip Esten.
“They tend to egg each other on in a good way. They give each other a little push,” she said. “Mostly with those two, it’s a lot more dancing, which I find really fun.”
More about Mrs. Hall’s experiences on “Whose Line?” will appear next week in the News-Press.