Merlin Works Teacher Spotlight: Jason Laney

Our next feature is about one of the musical improvisers that teaches the Improvised Singing Classes, Jason Laney. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Jason is an extremely talented performer and musical director. You can see him perform in the Coldtowne Sketch Comedy show and in the cabaret duet, Le Sexy. Because Jason is such a talented pianist, you might not know that he is also a top-notch vocalist. You can see him show of his pipes as he stars in the Boys of Summer Friday August 26th at the Hideout Theater. Jason will be teaching Improv Singing 301 which starts July 27th. Get a chance to work with this great man before he leaves us for the Big Apple!

 When and how did you get in to improv?

      My first exposure to improv was through Girls Girls Girls!  I was looking for work and found out about a troupe of improvisors that made up musicals and needed another musician.  I didn’t believe that it could be done, and emailed mostly out of curiosity.  They took me on, showed me that they could indeed make up a musical, and I have been hooked ever since.

When did you know you were bitten by the bug? 

     I don’t know of a specific moment.  When I was growing up, I absorbed every piece of sketch, stand-up, and improv comedy that I could get a hold of, and spent the rest of the time playing music.  Working as a musician in improv was not an opportunity I realized existed until I found it.  Once I did, it was clear to me that it was a good fit.

What do you love about improv?

     I love that it always keeps you on your toes as a performer.  You can not participate in an improv show, even as a background musician, and not be running at full throttle.  You never know what one of your fellow players are going to throw at you, and you need to be right there in the moment.

What are some highlights of your performance experience?

     My years as an musical improvisor for Girls Girls Girls have been both educational and a lot of fun.  There have been some hilarious and magical moments with them on stage.  I also work as a music director on a couple of shows at Coldtowne theater.  I get to work as not just an accompanist, but also a composer, singer, and comedy writer and performer.

How would you describe your teaching style?

     I try to leave teaching improv to the professionals, so mostly what I teach is music technique and theory.  Teaching at Merlin Works brings me into contact with a lot of different levels of musicianship, so I try to keep things as simple as possible.  You don’t need years of theory training to open your mouth and sing a song, but there are some things you can learn that are helpful.

What advice would you give a new improviser?

     The same advice I would give any performer.  Confidence on stage can turn a mistake into part of the show.  People can do something they don’t like on stage, and attempt to minimize themselves (through volume, stage placement, etc.) in an attempt to downplay the mistake.  It really just draws more attention to you.  But the performer that can make a mistake like it was what he or she always meant to do.  That person is a joy to watch from the audience

What’s something you are passionate about that has nothing to do with improv?

     Music is my primary passion, and it only occasionally has to do with improv.  I am and active performer and composer outside of my work in improv, and when I am not working for troupes, I’m working on my own material.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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