Paul Morgan Donald is a guitarist, composer and producer, based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
As a theatre composer, Paul’s credits include contemporary and period scores for the Free Will Shakespeare Festival and original scores and sound designs for theatres across Western Canada including over 20 original musicals.
An accomplished musical improvisor, creating live underscores for Die-Nasty, Edmonton’s improvised soap opera, and Rapid Fire Theatre’s Chimprov and TheatreSports, Paul also provides live music for events such as live music for gala receptions, conferences, tradeshows and parties.
TV Shows: News. Power & Politics, Westworld, Game of Thrones
Movies: Not so much
Actors: Not really
Authors: See: Books
Music: Ancient music, World music, John Scofield, Joe Pass. Robin Williamson, Glenn Gould. Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Sondheim
Instrument(s): Guitar, Piano, Bass, Banjo, Mandolin, Harmonica, Trumpet, Trombone
Websites: What are you? CSIS?
Food: Mountain Tea, Lentil Stew, Coffee, Chocolate
Words to live by:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -Robert A. Heinlein
Rapid Fire is an amazingly supportive company giving opportunities for professional development and a great community to be a part of.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH RAPID FIRE?
It’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO SCORING A SUCCESSFUL IMPROV SCENE?
Bold choices. Following the performers closely enough to see what they’re going to do before they do it. Making clear offers in terms of mood and style. Matching the energy of the scene. Doing just as much as is needed.
HOW IMPORTANT IS MUSIC TO AN IMPROV SCENE?
Music can do so much to help paint a scene – time period, mood, etc. Music can help the pace of a scene and also help the flow of it dramaturgically, subtly emphasizing the pivot between the setup/premise and the developing phase, and of course bringing it all home with those “end of story” musical resolutions that are so ingrained in us. Sometimes the music allows the other performers to be silent – it keeps the “air in the balloon” during mime sequences. Sometimes it lets them (or forces them) to burst into song! The secret language of dramatic underscore is so engrained in us all from constant exposure in TV and movies, it leads us on an emotional journey and manipulates us, and yet often we’re not even consciously aware of it.
WHAT ARE SOME THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS THE HOUSE MUSICIAN?
I’m not sure it’s a challenge per se, but I enjoy what music can do BETWEEN the scenes, in setting the structure of the show and pumping up the energy of the audience. The ultimate goal of any gig is always a great, energized, fun experience for the audience.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT SHORT FORM VS. LONG FORM AND VICE VERSA?
Short form, you need to have a lot of different feels and sounds to keep things fresh and to highlight the contrasts and variety of the different scenes. Making each scene its own separate thing. Short form shows are usually more High Energy and raucous than long form shows, so you have to pump out a lot of energy over the course of an evening. Long form — the challenge is to take whatever musical idea you start with and develop it in an interesting way over a longer time. Develop themes and leitmotifs that develop over time. Long form is also more likely to be more lifelike, and develop more interesting themes and more emotional honesty, which in turn leads the musician down more subtle and interesting paths.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE IMPROV FORMATS/GAMES?
Smells like a Song, Genre Rollercoaster, but there’s nothing like big old no holds barred free improv.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR IMPROV STYLE?
I try to keep things simple and leave space for the performers. I love when I can change the mood or feel with a simple note hanging in the air, or a slight pulse under the scene. I try to actually improvise rather than play things I know, and I’m at a point now where I can be totally focused on the actors and barely pay attention to what I’m playing, everything just sort of moves by itself without me thinking about it too much.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT ON STAGE?
There have been so many. Any of the Die-Nasty episodes with special guests: Mike Myers, Joe Flaherty, Nathan Fillion. Dana Anderson and I did a 55-hour Soapathon in Toronto at Soulpepper’s Impulse festival, where 35 hours in, the cast had to switch to a venue across town in the middle of the night in the middle of a blizzard because of a power blackout at Soulpepper, then back again. The combination of the sleep deprivation, overall surrealness and brilliant international cast created some of the funniest and most touching improv I’ve ever seen or taken part in. And I remember a CHiMPROV at the old Varscona, with Kevin Gillese and Tess Degenstein doing a beautiful 45-minute one act rom-com play set on a subway platform. They spent five minutes “painting the stage” in detail, and every weird little detail ended up being absolutely necessary to the action by the end. I don’t think I played at all from the first line of dialogue until the last two-minutes. It was magical and perfect, and if you weren’t there, you’ll never know what you missed.
WHAT DO YOU DO OUTSIDE OF RFT?
Musical Director for Die-Nasty for 25 years. Act, write and compose. Study ancient Greek.
HOW DOES IMPROV COME IN HANDY IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE?
Not sure if this quite answers that question, but in doing music for Improv, I’ve become much less self-conscious about performing music, because my own focus and the audience’s is never on me and what I’m doing, but on what the other people on stage are doing. It’s different than when you have hundreds of eyes looking right at you.
DESCRIBE WORKING FOR RAPID FIRE IN A SINGLE SENTENCE:
A Rollercoaster of Laughs through a Colour Wheel of Emotions!
Seriously, I’ve witnessed people go from complete beginners to Artistic Director of the company. Rapid Fire is an amazingly supportive company giving opportunities for professional development and a great community to be a part of. And it’s a Rollercoaster of Laughs through a colour wheel of emotions.