Spotlight On: Robbie Ellis

Photo credit: Kate Little

Photo credit: Kate Little

Robbie Ellis has been a musician for improv for literally more than half his life. He’s worked with ConArtists, WIT, The Improvisors, Improsaurus and the Court Jesters in New Zealand; he’s a past Music Co-ordinator for NZIF; and he’s also hit major Australian impro [sic] festivals. He moved to Chicago in 2015: since then he’s worked for the Second City on cruise ships, on touring companies and teaching at the Training Center; and he’s performed improv, music-directed sketch, and composed musicals at The Annoyance, iO, ComedySportz and MCL Chicago. Robbie also composes concert music (orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, the NZSO etc), writes and performs solo comedy songs (album coming soon), and has been a classical music broadcaster for RNZ Concert and 98.7 WFMT Chicago.

Tell us a bit about your workshop and the idea behind it, and why/how it excites you.
In musical improv, the choice of musical style is inextricably bound up with character, emotion and point of view. I want to arm improvisers with multiple stylistic options in any given situation, instead of falling back on the tried and true.

What shows are you most excited to see? Why?
Oh god I can't even remember what I've signed up to see. I'm excited to be surprised!

What's the best thing about improv?
At its best, spontaneity and surprise in performance that you cannot get in scripted forms.

How would you describe your personal improv style?
The music must fit the character.

Weirdest/best way improv has helped you in daily life?
The knowledge that there's always more than one correct option.

What makes musical improv different/special?
Music gets to access an audience's subconscious in a way mere words cannot.

What's going on in the improv world where you are?
In Chicago.. a troubling amount of harassment coming to light within the scene.

Is improv in NZ/Wellington very different to your country/city? How?
It's primarily the size of the scene. Wellington improvisers get stage time much earlier in their careers, which leads to earlier confidence. Chicago, there are quite defined paths of many terms of training - which makes it more expensive, for sure.

What's going to be the NEXT BIG THING in improv?
VAMP Chicago. Short-form musical improv with band.. all the performers are talented as hell.

Make up your own question and answer it!

Robbie teaches No Such Thing as Neutral on Wednesday 18 October, and will be playing in various shows across the festival.  Catch him and our other musical improvisors supporting the programme at BATS Theatre