I've been listening to nothing but Prince music lately, for obvious reasons, and listening to one of his jams today gave me an improv epiphany!
If you don't know, Prince music is amazing. One song of his that is a killer track is "Shockadelica." It showcases a lot of what made him iconic. It's funky, has a tasty groove, and it includes his alter ego, Camille.
I'd heard the song years ago, but just yesterday I read about the story behind the song. Listening to it today made me realize that it's a great example of "yes anding."
For the non-improv nerds reading this, "yes and" is the bedrock principle of improvisation. It means to accept what you were given for a scene and doing something with it. For instance, if you started a scene with me by saying, "Let's go on a picnic," then I would "yes and" your opening statement by saying, "Yes, and I'll bring carrot cake because I know it's your favorite."
The idea of "yes, anding" is quite often used to encourage people to support their scene partner, but it also starts the creative process. You are creating something with what is given to you.
Here's how "yes and" comes into play with this song.
"Shockadelica" is a song Prince whipped up because The Time's guitarist, Jesse Johnson, was about to put out a solo album titled Shockadelica. However, he didn't have a song named after the album.
Prince heard about how the album lacked a title track. He believed any great album title needs a title track on the album.
So, he wrote a song based on the title. He recorded it in 2 days and sent it to a Minneapolis radio station for release when he was finished.
Now first, let's just point out that he recorded and released a bad ass song in 2 days. Creating a finished product quickly was not uncommon for Prince. The level of creativity that beamed from him was unreal.
Secondly, talk about taking something and running with it! This is taking what you were given and doing something with it.
Prince took a one word suggestion from the audience and wrote a classic track.
Now, I didn't know the backstory when I heard the song years ago. Until yesterday I assumed he wrote a song then gave it a title. But the reverse happened. He had a title then he made a song that embodied that title.
Very similar to what us improvisers do whenever we do improv. We're given a suggestion and we have to create something that embodies it.
So how do we do that to the degree of excellence Prince did with "Shockadelica?"
Unfortunately, I am not able to pick Prince's brain on how he taps into creativity and artistry and how that relates to this song, but let me try to observe what happened.
Prince heard the word "Shockadelica."
The song, as I said early, is funky and has a tasty groove. It's silky, it's sweet, it's sexy. Everything I've used to describe it, as well as the lyrics and musical tone and vibe of the song, suits the word "Shockadelica" perfectly. It's like he defined this made up word based solely on hearing the word itself.
This tells me that Prince made a song based on what the word felt like to him. He had to breakdown what the word meant to him. He had to process all of that to come up with this song.
This is the process improvisers go through when they do their best work. That's why it takes focused, intent listening to accomplish our best work in improv. We have to be able to really let the suggestion fully sink to know it at it's core so we can express it.
My Takeaway How to Create Something from What We're Given:
What is the Meaning What does the suggestion mean? Get downright existential about it. What does it stand for to you?
What Do You Sense Does it bring up certain sights, sounds, tastes, etc? How could you embody these attributes to express them?
What Vibe Do You Get How does it make you feel emotionally? What can you do to present that feeling to the audience? How can you set that tone? You may have to create it.
I've been listening to Prince since I was 5 years old. It's pretty cool that all these years later he can still inspire me with songs I've heard so many times.
It's great to learn new depths on how one can make something real out of a simple suggestion.
Or is it just a mirage/or is it just a mirage/or is it just a mirage?