Welcome to Improv 401! I am so pumped to learn the basics of harold with you all. Let's get in here and dig into our thoughts on harold and improv!
Here are my impressions from 401 Week 1:
We started out by discussing what comedy is, and how it often uses repetition and contrast. We looked at how game-based patterns can be reusable from scene to scene, and within scenes, with a common comedic premise tying ideas together.
Then we talked about the structure of a Harold, and worked on the first two elements: the verbal pattern game and the first beat.
Verbal Pattern Game:
Remember to A-to-C the ideas. Don’t rush it. Get well away from the original idea before coming back to it (Beach - Whale - Dance - Shoes, rather than Beach - Sand - Sea - Salt). Always work from the last thing said, not the one before the last (that you were perhaps just about to say). Project confidence and make every word worth the price of entry. Don’t overthink it — follow the fun!
The verbal pattern game comprises three loops, medium, then large, then small.
Two-person scenes without walk-ons or tag-outs (you can use those in the second beat). Simple game combined with strong characters (this is the essence of a good Harold and applies not only to the first beat).
We discussed the use of the Harold structure in other contexts. For example, some Seinfeld episodes (and other sitcoms) start with an opening scene that spawns three plot lines. The action in each plot line develops separately from a detail in the opening scenes and these details are used at the end of the episode to tie the plot lines together.
We also talked about game of the scene, which can be characterized as a pattern minus the specifics; a pattern that can then be reused in other contexts, while heightening the humor. The game of the scene is often focused on an unusual thing that emerged early in the scene (this helps the players to find funny fast).
The game of the scene can also be described as “if, then…”. If this strange thing is true, then what other strange things (fitting the same pattern) might also be true.
We recalled some ways to find funny that we saw in earlier classes:
- Fish out of water scenes where reality clashes with character.
- Status scenes.
- “We are the most” / “this is the most”.
- A strong character.
- A physicality.
We looked ahead to later parts of the Harold. The group games will be inspired by the original suggestions, not by the first or second beat scenes. Group games A and B will approach the words from the pattern game in ways that are very different. The games are intended as a palate cleanser for the audience between beats of the Harold.
In reply to this post by Cory Jenks
There's some interesting discussion of game of the scene in Jimmy Carrane's interview with Will Hines (of UCB). It's more than an interview -- they also do some improv and discuss what the game of the scene was, and what it *could* have been (but did not develop into) in one of their scenes. They also do a very interesting status scene involving a vulnerable bully.
Will Hines describes the early part of a scene, which develops "organically" until the game of the scene emerges, and contrasts it with the later part of the scene where the game is clear and the players are making deliberate choices that allow the game to be played.
Wow Gerry, thanks for the great recap and podcast suggestion!
Yes, you have well summarized what we went over in the first week of Harold.
Verbal pattern, A to C, project confidence and viola, instant Harold opening!
First beat- simple game, strong characters. It's just that easy, right!?
Of course it is not THAT easy, if so, you all wouldn't be in a class!
Thanks for being so active, can't wait to hear others' thoughts from 401!
This week we learned 'Follow the Follower', the group game that we will play between beats of our Harold. To play this game, start with the original idea supplied by the audience (not a word generated by the verbal pattern game). Someone in the group starts doing a movement inspired by that original idea, and possibly makes vocalizations (not quite words) that match or complement the movement. Everyone follows the movement/vocalization started by the first person. Anyone in the group can develop it into a new movement/vocalization, and everyone else must then follow this new movement/vocalization. Ideally, the group finds movements that heighten the humor of an earlier movement.
For example, Cory gave us "bank robber" as a starting idea. We began by miming pointing a gun at a bank teller, then pushing money into a bag. Then someone introduced the movement of the robber realizing (with shock) that he/she had forgotten to put on a mask, and we all mimed putting one on. Then we went back to pointing a gun and stashing cash in a bag. Then someone introduced the movement of realizing (again, with shock) that we had no gloves on, and we mimed putting on a pair. Again, we went back to pointing guns and stashing cash. Finally, we heightened the humor one last time when someone mimed the action of realizing (again, with shock) that we had forgotten to put our pants on and we all mimed putting a pair on.
To end the game, one person steps to the front of the stage and buttons the scene with a funny line that sums up the theme of our game. The example that I remember from ours was: "preparation is everything".
Here are some other things that I remember from this week’s class. This is just a list of things that I need to work on, so other people probably remember different details from the class:
1. We did three-line scenes. For me, this was a very revealing exercise. I realized that I found these scenes much easier to initiate than full—length scenes. I think I’m planning ahead too much and getting too “stuck in my own head”. Only having to do three lines was liberating. So I now know that I need to jump into longer scenes without planning in advance where they might lead to.
2. I need to remember to play at the top of my intelligence while establishing a base reality. A fire extinguisher made of combustible material and containing an explosive liquid is not part of the real world and is not usually a good starting premise for a scene.
3. I need to remember that I can start a scene with a gift to my partner. "Sister Mary, are you sure that you really want those eggs devilled?"
4. When introducing a contrasting character, I need to help establish a strong base reality (who/what/where) first. Don’t just get contrasty right from line 1.
I also need to remember that it might be best to remember words from the verbal pattern game that got a laugh from the audience.
In reply to this post by Cory Jenks
I just finished an awesome UCB longform conversations podcast all about second beats. It was a great conversation about game of the scene and ways of making your first beats set you up for good second beats and stronger vs weaker moves for second beat scenes. It was called second beats with Nick Mandernach and aired on 10/16/16 here is a link, https://soundcloud.com/ucb-long-form-conversations/2nd-beats
Thanks Gerry and Emily for sharing all of that improv goodness!
Again, an excellent summation from Gerry!
It is encouraging when students and performers are able to take some (not too much getting in your head) introspection and learn from what they did. The big key for Gerry, and really for the rest of class and anyone doing improv is that keeping things simple will make something complicated like a Harold works so much better! Just because it is an advanced form doesn't mean we magically have to have some special advanced improv skills. Keep it simple, find the contrast, play the game.
thank you for sharing! I love getting great sources from outside perspectives. We love teaching you here at TIM as faculty, but sometimes hearing an outside voice is just what you need to click
A quick summary of 401, Week 3...
This week we focused on second beats. Second beats can be related to the first beat in various ways, but in our 401 class we will only do analogous second beats. This means that our second beats will play the same game of the scene as the first beat, but using different characters in a different base reality. Each player will take on the same role in the game as they did in the first beat. So if Player 1 played a high-status burglar in the first beat, and Player 2 played a low-status cop, the second beat must be a similar inverted status game and Player 1 must play high status to Player 2's low status.
Keep first beats simple, with a strong idea. Make it clear to your partner what the game is and what the relationship is. Try to get all the information out there for your partner in the first line.
In the first exercise we took it in turns to do a first beat. Then we all discussed what the game of the scene was, and we suggested possible second beats that used the same game. The goal was to do a simple first beat with a clear game of the scene.
In the second exercise, We did a "gauntlet" of second beats. Two players did a single first beat from a suggested word, then we all did as many analogous scenes (second beats) as we could, based on the game of the scene and character relationships of the original first beat.
In the third exercise, each pair of players did a first beat, then reflected silently for a few seconds on possible second beats, then played a second beat.
Finally, we did a half-Harold.
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