Poor Harold. Can't get no respect.

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Postby trabka » July 14th, 2011, 11:52 am

The best analogy I can come up with is that the essence of the Harold is the wiring in a building, not the beams. But that really only works if you use the definition of wiring that refers to how people's brains work.
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Postby York99 » July 14th, 2011, 3:58 pm

One way to describe a Harold that will probably be as frustrating as many other descriptions is taking a single suggestion, getting a few disparate ideas from that suggestion, then exploring those ideas through improvisation until they all come together at the end.

Not to re-hash the miles of conversations about "Truth in Comedy" but the Harold described in the book gives a pretty clear example of a "textbook" Harold.
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Postby PyroDan » July 15th, 2011, 4:33 am

Brad Hawkins wrote:
Jastroch wrote:Roy hit it on the head.

The Harold is about more than the three beat structure the same way good story telling is about more than a Hero Quest.

OK, so what IS it?


Tell me what it is to be human, and you will know what a Harold is. [CUE GONG]

It's that simple. Part of learning it is to do the simple structure, and then play with that structure, and mess it up in all the fun ways improv can.

It's weird to describe and often the reason people love or hate it. It is more an experience. Like the difference in talking about how to accomplish an edit or device in an improvised piece, rather than doing it. One way is trying to wrap your experience and perception to mold it, and the other is throwing it against the wall and enjoying the wonderful chaos that follows.
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Postby York99 » July 15th, 2011, 8:29 am

Another way to understand it is: watch almost any episode of Seinfeld.

Also, many (all?) episodes of The Upright Citizen's Brigade sketch show were Harold-y if not Harolds.
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Postby arthursimone » July 15th, 2011, 11:07 am

trabka wrote:The best analogy I can come up with is that the essence of the Harold is the wiring in a building, not the beams. But that really only works if you use the definition of wiring that refers to how people's brains work.


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Postby erikamay » July 15th, 2011, 2:24 pm

meh. i'm not a fan of the squishy descriptions of the harold ("that was a harold!","everything is a harold" "seinfeld is a harold"). the descriptions seem akin to the supreme courts ruling on what constitutes obscenity ("i know it when i see it") which are largely subjective and confusing for beginning improvisers.

on a related note, i whole heartedly agree with kaci's sentiment wrt this conversation and the value of the harold...give the audience a good show, and i could care less if you are reading kafka in german or conducting a fart symphony among 12 year olds. execute your idea well and everyone wins.

however, improviser to improvisers, i like form and structure and have always tried to accomplish the diagrammed harold format when performing it. if you don't get to the third beats or run, you just performed a montage with thought. that said, i don't like the training wheels harold, where the first beat characters are brought back for each of the subsequent beats - i think it limits the ability to map, heighten and drill down on theme by relegating it to the plight and fatal flaws of the same people. the deconstruction is a better form for that focus.

i'm not trying to spark any echo-chambery, academic discussion here, just more point out to folks such as katherine, brad, kayla (and any other watchers of this thread) there are different interpretations of what constitutes a harold among students of the school.
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Postby Roy Janik » July 15th, 2011, 5:05 pm

i don't like the training wheels harold, where the first beat characters are brought back for each of the subsequent beats - i think it limits the ability to map, heighten and drill down on theme by relegating it to the plight and fatal flaws of the same people. the deconstruction is a better form for that focus.


I totally agree. Every single Harold I've seen on my trips to Chicago (and almost every Harold I've seen, period) has followed the same set of characters through each beat. My dumb luck, I suppose. But I really wanted to see the thematic connections, not just the same game happening to the same characters a little bit later in their lives.
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Postby PyroDan » July 15th, 2011, 5:46 pm

Roy Janik wrote:
i don't like the training wheels harold, where the first beat characters are brought back for each of the subsequent beats - i think it limits the ability to map, heighten and drill down on theme by relegating it to the plight and fatal flaws of the same people. the deconstruction is a better form for that focus.


I totally agree. Every single Harold I've seen on my trips to Chicago (and almost every Harold I've seen, period) has followed the same set of characters through each beat. My dumb luck, I suppose. But I really wanted to see the thematic connections, not just the same game happening to the same characters a little bit later in their lives.


That's a shame, the Harolds you have seen have been performed that way. When I teach the Harold, I often challenge them to not bring back any characters from the previous beat just to see what erupts. I think it forces them to explore more, rather than following a viva-sectioned narrative.

I think part of it is also the challenge of keeping so much information from so many threads, and group games/scenes and working on a connection that isn't ham fisted, that also brings these threads either crashing together, or lightly brushing within that universe created.
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Postby Spots » July 15th, 2011, 6:32 pm

I'll vouch for Dan here.

I've seen Southwest Berkley shows where they jump into the 2A scene without the same characters. When I realize how the scene is tied together with the previous, my mind erupts with joy.

One great advantage to making the less obvious choice is the element of surprise when callbacks organically arise. I see so many forced patterns that ruin any chance for later callbacks. Gets a laugh but ruins the group mind.

Just to pat my buddy on the back for a second -- PyroDan is great at coaching imps out of bad habits. For instance he's extremely good at encouraging the group mind over trying to write scenes in your head.

It's most likely this form of learned trust that differentiates thematic Harolds (mentioned in "Truth In Comedy") from all the lazy ones out there. Takes alot of discipline and everyone has to leave their inner writer at home.

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Postby Jastroch » July 16th, 2011, 10:29 am

When I teach second beats, I lay out three boiler plate options. These aren't meant to be limiting, but rather to force students into stretching their brains and seeing how far they can go when making connections:

If, then (heighten) the game
If, then a character or a relationship
If, then some other detail in the scene.

What you follow in a second beat -- thematically or otherwise -- is essentially telling the audience and your ensemble what the most important part of the first beat. In effect, you're distilling the content of those first beats down to their (comedic) essence. Therefore, the bolder the choice you make, the more satisfying and interesting your connections will be. Ultimately, the bigger risks you take, the cooler the end result.

One of the big differences between improv schools seems to be how we tackle what comes next in a show. The same way PGraph might spend days drilling story spine, we spend days drilling how to make these kinds of leaps within a show.

Of course, what both schools of thought want to avoid is the following scene:

Man: Remember when yo did in that last scene? Let's talk about that.
Woman: I'm still upset about that last scene.

One of the tricky things about second beats in a Harold -- when following a character or a relationship -- is heightening without getting tangled up in those kinds of scenes. I imagine it's the same with narrative.
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Postby Roy Janik » July 16th, 2011, 11:25 am

Jastroch wrote:One of the tricky things about second beats in a Harold -- when following a character or a relationship -- is heightening without getting tangled up in those kinds of scenes. I imagine it's the same with narrative.


Yep. In general, if we find ourselves in a scene where we're rehashing the past, we edit that shit. Unless, you know, it's funny.
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Postby York99 » July 16th, 2011, 11:47 am

The way I learned second beats at iO was that only one of the characters from the first beat would return in the second beat.

As to what you did in that second beat and later in the third beat, you follow the "work, home, play" guideline, which meant that if in the first beat you saw that character at work, then in the second beat you would either see that character interacting with family and the third beat you would see that character interacting with friends. The order didn't matter.

It was never meant to be a hard rule, but it was an excellent way to learn the structure without having to think too hard about too many other elements.
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Postby TexasImprovMassacre » July 19th, 2011, 5:33 pm

I would like to offer my opinion of what the harold is.


I think the notion that other cities (as a whole) worship the harold is false. This idea seems to crop up when we discuss the harold in these terms, and I think that more often than not this is what people are reacting to.


I think what makes people sore is that they think someone somewhere is saying "This is the only way to do it! This is the best!"...and sure, maybe their are some people out there who think this. Surely Charna thinks highly of it, but none of the teachers at IO ever said anything like that in class. So, anyone who came to that opinion, I believe, did it on their own...I think categorizing an entire community's opinion as this is inaccurate. At least in the time I spent in Chicago I did not find this to be the case.


Certain schools have the harold as a large part of their curriculum (IO, UCB), and this often seems to be because they like the way it encourages their students to play, and how they can use it to teach the skills they want. But again, never are you lead to believe that "this is the only/best way to play". Even at IO where you are put onto a "student harold team that has to perform the harold"...as I understand it (from steph) you actually have some wiggle room in terms of what kind of show you put up. Outside of those student troupes, they also offer a variety of other shows at the theater, and a HUGE number of opportunities to perform around the city where you can do any type of show your heart desires.

I think this notion of harold worship gets blown out of proportion, and this specific misinformation often fuels the anti-harold side of this conversation.

Even if there are people who are performing the harold because they think it is the end all be all...if they put up a show that's good or bad, that isn't the forms fault. It isn't the forms fault that they just chose that form because that's all they know/want, or that they perform it without joy because of some sense of obligation...I think it has to do with who they are as people/performers.

I think a lot of the grief the harold gets come from whoever happens to be behind it that night, and not to the form itself...and often, i think the perception of the harold gets based too much on hearsay. So, I would caution people against basing their opinion of the harold on this type of information.



I think some people also react to the "well, everything is just a harold" sentiment that is muttered by some people from time to time. Also people react to the confusion about "what exactly qualifies as a harold". This confusion exists because there are now multiple definitions for a harold...In response to this as well as to question about how something is a harold if it doesn't follow 3 scenes game..."the harold" does refer to that 3 scenes, game structure for a show. However, the way I have come to understand "the harold" in its more broad definition is that it also refers to a style of play, or a specific approach to longform...So, there is confusion caused by the fact that some people use it to mean 3 scenes game, but in other communities they also use it to describe a specific (edit:squishy) approach.


As I understand it, the 3 scenes game structure was developed as a teaching tool over time to more efficiently help students learn the aforementioned skills. However, doing 3 scenes game is not an essential element of a harold for everyone...

Just this weekend, Bill Arnett said (again) "I don't think Del Close ever sat up at night shouting, '3 SCENES GAME!!'"

...I think that what they wanted to teach people was how to "harold" not "how to do three scenes game". "How to do good longform improv" not "how to execute a specific show formula". What is important is that people perform a longform show where they attempt do use those skills that jastroch listed earlier. I recently heard it described as "doing a show where the form of the show is as improvised as the scenes".

So, if a group does a show using those skills they've learned, where they do something up top and then base everything that comes next off of what has already happened, they make an effort to support each other throughout the show, etc...there are those people who might make an argument that the show was a "harold" based on their more general definition. On the other hand, someone could not use any of those skills and do 3 scenes game, and call that a harold as well.


So, that is how a show can not have 3 scenes game and still be a harold to some people.




Special Teaser: I'm planning a harold workshop that will start in a month or so...

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Last edited by TexasImprovMassacre on July 20th, 2011, 12:51 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby beardedlamb » July 19th, 2011, 10:18 pm

I am too inebriated to post on this thread right now.
.............
O O B
.............
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Postby kaci_beeler » July 19th, 2011, 10:26 pm

beardedlamb wrote:I am too inebriated to post on this thread right now.


Here here!
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