The Harold Conumdrum

It seems appropriate that my first post to the Go U Blog is about the Harold. Everyone knows I'm obsessed with it, and in Detroit that's a little odd. Not that we don't do Harolds, or teach them, but in general, they are not the be all and end all. There is no theatre that bases it's stage or classes around learning, and performing, the Harold.

So the conundrum? Well, because its not big in Detroit but still very well know through books like Truth in Comedy and theatre's like UCB and iO, the Harold has a certain mystique. Every student that want to learn longform improv really, really want to do a Harold, learn the Harold, perform the Harold, BE the Harold. Then they have a class about the Harold, and they no longer want to do it. Just like that, almost unanimously. It's a weird yet predictable outcome after six years of Go being around.

Why? Well, like so many things, there is no one answer. I think, in a lot of cases, it come down to the fact that the Harold cannot be taught, let alone grasped for all its nuances and beauty, in one three hour class. The Harold is hard, and that can turn people away. But, I would argue, that is the very reason TO study it, to learn it, to try it. 

For this post I'm going to focus on one part of the Harold: Openers. These are performance pieces that are non-scenic, and by this very nature make them difference from what we think, up to this point in our training, is longform improv: scenes (i.e. talking). They make you feel weird, you do weird things, you are supposed to be inspired by the other people on stage with you also doing weird stuff (and also thinking the same things). This is all true; openers are weird performance pieces. And that's precisely the point.

Openers are a way for the group to connect as a group, to truly get into group mind mode, to uberly support everything that everyone does no matter how weird, no matter how purposeful or accidental it is. Nothing creates group cohesion better, or faster, than openers. I tell my students all the time: "If you can get comfortable doing openers, with all the weirdness and self-judgement, then doing scenes will be easy by comparison."

My Advanced 4 class tonight worked on openers. They wanted to work on them as possibly being part of their class form. I walked them through 4 various types of traditional Harold openers. Most groups take a while to get the hang of it, let alone dive right in. Not these guys--they were on it like Patriots on a goal line slant pass! It was truly, truly amazing to watch these eight adults literally doing silly walks and noises around the stage interacting with each other, and having a blast! And then finding an ending all on their own of chanting CHICK and raising something into the air like Simba in The Lion King. Everyone was smiles, including me. It was a joy to watch, and they did just as well when I let them do it without any direction or side coaching. They did brilliantly! I told them this, and it was also the fastest I've ever seen a group get openers, and into them. I can't say enough how amazing it was.

The Take Away: If something is hard, keep doing it! You'll never get better at it if you don't try simply because it's hard. This is true in life as in improv, as so many things are. Do openers, feel weird, embrace it, and be better for it. Embrace the weird! You and your group (and society at large) will be better for it.

Posted on February 4, 2015 .