Friday, November 12, 2010

Harold with Your Eyes Closed

When I teach improv workshops or coach troupes, my first order of business is to get them comfortable with Harold. Harold is the simplest long form, but it is not necessarily easy. To an audience, it looks like an improvised play. To an improviser, the breakdown looks something like this:

Infographic by Dyna Moe, via Story Robot
Harold gets a lot of flack. Some workshops and troupes have told me Harold is too basic for them and they want to move on to something more sophisticated. (Ironically, those are usually the groups who don't do well with risk, and their Harolds are dull as a result.) Others have told me they didn't want to do Harold because it was impossible. (Maybe it is impossible, but I've seen it done so many times, and I've done it myself.)

Harold is an excellent barometer for how a troupe is really doing, especially when it comes to spotting games and patterns, heightening, and reincorporation. No one moves past Harold. Your Harolds get weirder or more elegant as you grow as a player and as a troupe, but a good Harold is never boring. If you can do Harold, you can do anything.


Some friends and I have been getting together for the past several weeks to work on our improv. There are six or seven of us, depending on the night, and we are called Stradivarius and the Other Kinds. We were each in wheatonIMPROV, but we had never all played together. We were in different eras of the club and on different troupes. Given the range of experience, I foresaw our practices being a little rocky as we fought to reconcile our various approaches to improv and life.

So I was wonderfully surprised when, twenty minutes into our first practice, the group mind clicked. I think it was because of the following two things: (1) We respect one another, despite not have much shared stage time under our belts, and (2) we all have a thorough grasp of Harold. We could do a Harold with our eyes closed. In fact, that is exactly what we did. ...  More on that later.

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