Free Range Harolds

Bill Arnett has been visiting us this weekend, and for the past couple days, the focus has been on playing a Harold. Harold farmers have many options, from industrial-strength openings to organic ones, but perhaps the biggest challenge is tying ideas together into a larger theme.

One piece of advice I’ve heard multiple times is that a strong Harold is about the scene work, and players don’t have to worry as much about tying ideas back to the opening. Bill broke down the Harold in such a way that added some more clarity. Namely, the first beat scenes do not need to find or tie back to a larger theme, but the players can declare a theme later in the show by looking back at everything that has already happened. I’d like to call this a free range Harold.

What are the elements of a free range Harold? Well, it starts, unsurprisingly, with an opening. A general note we got on organic openings was that if the opening feels a bit too talk-centric, players could switch the stage picture and make it more action-centric, or vice versa.

The first point of distinction in a free range Harold is during the first beat scenes. Players in these first beat scenes do not have to worry as much about drawing on the opening or suggestion as they do about creating solid, relationship-centric scenes. Bill gave a number of great notes on how to generate such scenes. One can play the junior psychologist and identify the personality of both one’s own character and that of the scene partner, and then call out the latter in the scene. Based on a scene partner’s reaction, a player can ask, “Is this how I expected this interaction to go?” and try to find ways to respond honestly. If there is a tension, it should be between managing the personality of the other player and one’s individual desires in the scene, and it should come across as frustration, not anger.

The next point of distinction is in the group game. While the first beat scenes don’t necessarily need to shoe-horn a supposed theme from the opening, Bill’s point was that there is always a theme, which he illustrated by having us list three arbitrary movies and demonstrating that we could find multiple themes common to them. The group game is an opportunity to declare a theme among these possibilities, thus tying together the first beat scenes into the larger show. Since more ground is covered by the time one reaches a group game, it becomes easier to look back on what’s already happened and identify a theme than it would to try to anticipate what one might be at the end of an opening.

The final point of distinction in the free range Harold is that rather than trying to tie worlds together, players can recall elements from the opening and bring them back into the third beat. This can start by drawing elements from the opening during a third beat scene; that scene can then cross fade into a game that brings back the initial energy, physicality, and ideas from the opening.

While there wasn’t a lot of time to practice the free range Harold, I ended the day with the feeling that there is a sustainable approach to producing a quality Harold.

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One Response to Free Range Harolds

  1. Pingback: Forming Rules | Improv from Below

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