Hello, my name is Gypsy, and I'd like to ask a question.

Discussion in 'The Improvisation Forum' started by Gypsy, Apr 26, 2003.

  1. What follows is stuff stolen from Del and ImprovOlympic, mixed in with my own beliefs (or at least my beliefs of a few years ago.)

    The Training-wheels Harold (the 1-2-3 Kick Harold)

    Group Opening
    Helps create a group mind and connections
    Serves as a sort of musical or thematic overture to the whole piece
    Generates information about the suggestion. You remember images, vivid monologues, and patterns that repeat. Can be looked at as deconstructing the suggestion, breaking it apart into all of its many aspects, and investing it with personal meaning. The opening may just touch on the high notes of these meanings, to be further explored in the scenes and group games. Keep it short.

    Beat One- scenes 1, 2, 3
    Should be as far as away as possible from one another. When scenes start to come together towards the end, they have had a more satisfying journey.
    Minimal interference from outside players in this first set of scenes (walk-ons, split scenes, swinging doors, scene narration, etc.)
    Should not be about the suggestion, but about themes or characters or games suggested by the opening.

    First Group Game
    Can be more directly about the suggestion, involving more players, and can either be discovered organically or can be shaped by a strong initiation.

    Second Beats of each scene
    Heightens the scene from the first beats either thematically, emotionally, or temporally. You can launch into further exploration of the game of the first scene with new characters (if it was a very strong game that can be easily identified), or use the same character or characters and initiate another time (future or past) or place (or situation). Avoid story and focus on relationships. Time dash over plot so we encounter the same characters again and explore them fresh. There are no set rules as to what the second beat should be, just be aware of making connections, making discoveries, and repeating patterns.

    Second Group Game
    Same as the first, only better.

    Third Beats of each scene
    Quick revisitation of earlier scenes. The game of the scenes, and/or the characters should have been developed well enough by now to be able to hit the heart of the relationship much more quickly. The final three scenes should also start to discover connections to the other scenes, and some mixing and weaving of characters, themes, and locations should occur. This might take the place of or evolve into the Final Group Game.

    Final Group game
    Ideally the final group game is organic, informed by everything that has happened for the last half hour or more. It is an opportunity to tie together loose ends and create a sense of closure. It is usually unnecessary, especially if in the last beat the scenes started merging. If possible, shoot for a big finish, like the rack that is fired off at the end of a fireworks display. Arty abstraction is also a cool way to end. Or end with everyone dying.

    Other Elements of Harold

    Monologues are the whippets of Harold: quick, inspired, inspiring moments of individual clarity. They can be opinions, memory images, a quick story, a fact, or a song. They occur during the opening and at any point throughout the Harold. A group game can be entirely monologues. If you are inspired to do a monologue, step out front and commit to it. A monologue can clearly edit/end a scene, or it can be in the middle of a scene, at which point the players freeze and then continue the scene as if there was no break. They should not comment directly on the monologue, but just listen to it and allow it to enter the group consciousness. It will be integrated in subtler ways if you don’t let it immediately affect the scene.

    are intuitive, after a while you can hear the beats
    when there is a peak in energy
    when the game or action is coming full circle
    after a big laugh
    When there is agreement on future action or location
    When there is a strong statement of a thesis, belief, a resolution
    Don’t ever practice preventative editing. Trust that a scene will find its natural edit and don’t edit too soon just because you think a scene is dying.
    Be prepared to take the stage after an edit, even if it’s not your turn. Mix it up. You can sweep, but in general discoveries require more than one player, so try not to leave players alone on stage. The stage should never ever be empty.
    Experiment incorporating “thematic” edits. If the suggestion was “water” try editing with the sound and movement of water, or edit with a memorable sound or movement from the opening.

    Loosening of structure
    The above is the training wheel Harold. Feel free to loosen the structure by mixing up characters and the order when you feel strong and comfortable, or when Harold calls for it. Don’t be afraid to go out with no idea, and be prepared to play with any person, or character, with whom you might find yourself on stage. Trust in discovery, and ye shall be rewarded.
    Be aware of levels- of varying and stretching the emotional levels and energy levels. Structure comes organically when you learn to listen to levels like you would listen to or create music--time for a quiet section, time for chaos, time for a rapid-fire succession of scenes or walk-ons. Don’t be afraid of the silences, there can be just as much power in a silence as there is in screaming. Too much screaming or too much silence becomes boring.

    Long-form improv thrives on slow comedy, listening, honesty, support, agreement, and intelligence. There are no mistakes because you weave mistakes into strengths by justification. Your primary job is to make your stage partner look good, and listen carefully to every thing that transpires. Connections then occur organically.

    Practice Yes And, abandon yourself to the good of the whole, turn the other cheek, give gifts, and try to truly love each other. But only while on stage. To commit too rigidly to these tenets in real life, Del would say, would be insanity.
  2. Car

    Car Na

    Re: Me pimping Brian...

    i just wanted to say that i loved the scene, and thank you for the gift both as i understood it and as it was meant to be taken. thanks for the opportunity.

    so i guess i'm saying: no matter what you "pimp" me into doing, i will try to take it as a gift. as for "pimping" others, i would never ask you to do something i wouldn't do myself or that i thought would make you uncomfortable.

    simple etiquette prevails.
  3. lil'buttercup

    lil'buttercup Pleasure Authority


    I just have to say, that is an excellent, concise explanation of the basic Harold. I am keeping that forever.

    xo, jt
  4. Gypsy

    Gypsy Queen of Questions

    When you say "avoid transaction scenes", do you mean money changing hands? If not, please define so that a newbie from Mars understands. (that'd be me, by the way)

    Why is the end of a transaction the end of a scene?
  5. dkois

    dkois "El Destructo"

    A "transaction scene" is a scene in which the only reason for the two characters to be speaking with each other is the transaction they're conducting. Whether buying a CD in a record store, or negotiating with a terrorist, or anything in between, transaction scenes often tend to get bogged down in the detailed negotiations between the two parties. And then, when negotiations conclude, there's nowhere else for the scene to go, since the two characters have no relationship other than as transactors.

  6. lil'buttercup

    lil'buttercup Pleasure Authority

    Oh and in response to Gypsy's question:

    I think it's just one of those things that's left to each individual group's decision. We've had a couple visitors attend our Rockenstern rehearsals, but we are also a more "presentational" style of improv (we do musicals), so we often benefit when we have a bit of an "audience". My other team, "Karl" has had a friend of ours sit in and watch a rehearsal, but we're a more insular group and only invited him because we've all worked with him and love him - I don't forsee us having observers at our rehearsals on a regular basis.

    As for sitting in on classes, the UCBT generally frowns upon strangers coming into the classroom, especially for the beginning levels of classes. Having an outsider there when you're in your "safe place" can be intrusive or welcome depending on where your group/class is in their rehearsal/learning process. However, some teachers might be open to the idea - I did have a friend who was interested in taking classes at The PIT come into my Instant Brilliance class one night, but only with Armando's prior permission.

    I understand that the policy is a little looser at the Chicago theatres, though you may need to pay a small fee to observe or participate in a class. You should work that out with the theatres themselves - just call the general number and ask to speak to the person in charge of admissions.

    Though a few do meet at the theatre, most teams and classes do not rehearse there (shows are often going on) - we use rehearsal rooms for that, so you'd need to contact a member of a team you wanted to see or the instructor of the class to ask permission and to coordinate your attendance.

    Hope this helps!
  7. Gypsy

    Gypsy Queen of Questions

    Yes it does, thank you. :) Actually it's not that I want to watch as though to judge it as if it were a show, but just to see firsthand some (any) of the stuff I've read about. If I lived in a place where taking a class were the least bit feasible, I wouldn't even be thinking about it, really. *shrug* Just a situation where, IF I managed to get near enough, I'd like to take in as much visually as I possibly could while I had the chance.

    I'd love to go to NY someday. Maybe someday I'll get unstuck from this situation, and the idea won't be so out of the question.
  8. mullaney

    mullaney Administrator Staff Member

    Actually, we have changed our policy on auditing a class. It is possible to audit with prior permission. However, it is only for people who are interested in taking a class, not simply for someone who is curious about what goes on in one.

    You would arrange it by contacting me at 212-929-8107.
  9. mattmoses

    mattmoses easement

    playing to the top of your intelligence

    what does "playing to the top of your intelligence" mean?

    hope you don't mind Gypsy . . .
  10. Gypsy

    Gypsy Queen of Questions

    I've been waiting for someone to answer mattmoses' question, but I'll go ahead and post another one while we wait:

    What is this ASSSSSCat I keep reading about? And why does the number of S's seem to change with every single post? I keep trying to figure it out from context, and I keep right on being baffled by it.

    Oh, and Mullaney:

    I figured as much, about the practice thing. I knew not to get my heart set on it or my hopes up, I really was mainly just curious. After all, you don't know if you don't ask. If I hadn't asked and then someday got the chance and lost out because I didn't know...well, I'd have been kicking myself for a long time. So, just wanted to check.

    The reasons are understandable. I just wanted to make sure I didn't let myself miss any opportunities, since mine are so damned limited already. Thanks for answering. :)
  11. PhilC

    PhilC Phil C

    IMO - playing to the top of your intelligence means making smart offers, not easy offers. The audience will laugh if I stand onstage and make farty noises for twenty minutes. That's not the way to build riviting theater.

    It has other implications too. If I know my nurse character will kill, I could play him every time whether or not the scene required it. Or I could play smart and bring in a character the scene called for. It doesn't mean you can't play a dumb character. It means you're less likely, perhaps, to play a stereotypical dumb character. You're reaching for something new and meaningful, not cheap and easy.
    Cancer - prostate forums
    Last edited: May 15, 2011
  12. El Jefe

    El Jefe latitudinarian Staff Member

    I tried to answer the "playing to the top of your intelligence" question before, but I had trouble finding the right words. What PhilC says is right. I would add, though, that to play to the top of your intelligence means that you should let your character be smart enough to think of anything you would think of if you were in your character's shoes. This allows you to seize upon anything weird in the scene and to comment on or react to it, thereby allowing you to definine the logic of the scene, or the game.

    For example -- and this is as good an example I can think of on a Monday morning -- if your scene partner says that he's the President and he's just passed a law saying that only blond people can vote, it doesn't do much good for you to nod naively and say, "Oh wow, Mr. President. That totally makes sense!" Because it doesn't really. There are all sorts of questions that immediately pop into your head. Can't I just bleach my hair blond? Since when can the President pass laws? Maybe the President is a redhead. That doesn't mean that you should spend the scene arguing with your partner, or asking him lots of questions (both things to avoid). But you should address those issues, because if you don't, the audience will wonder why you haven't and the scene will be starved of detail and meaning.

    It's for this reason that we're discouraged from playing stoners, or the learning disabled.

    As for ASSSSCAT 3000, this is how it's defined on ucbtheater.com:

    "The Upright Citizens Brigade performs longform improv with possible special guests from Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O' Brien and The Second City."

    It's usually two shows on Sunday night featuring whatever members of the original Upright Citizens Brigade show up, plus special guests as mentioned above, and usually the more experienced improvisers from the Harold Teams. (I've heard that members of The Swarm and Respecto Montalban have an open invitation to play at ASSSSCAT...I'm not sure if that's true of any other teams.) The format is (I think) a "deconstruction," where one of the members takes a suggestion from the audience and does a monologue on that subject. Then the players do scenes inspired by the details of that monologue (or the scenes that came before.)

    I have no idea where the name "ASSSSCAT" comes from.
    Last edited: May 5, 2003
  13. MarkOn10th

    MarkOn10th What do I do?

    Play at the top of your intelligence:

    I have a few notes from teachers/coaches on this. Mostly after scenes have bombed. As often as not the reason is because I did not play my part (or someone didn't play their part) with integrity and intelligence. These two are very much related I think. Even if you are playing a learning disabled character, play that character with integrity. The character must have self respect, must have a history, a set of preferences, a world view. All these things are as important as object work or speaking loudly or yes and. . .

    Dumbass scenes are really not that much fun. Let your character be brilliant and be ABLE to do whatever needs to be done to let the scene develop. I'm thinking of a Syndicate show last week where Calhoun scaled the side of his house to meet up with his son. Now, I don't know if in real life Calhoun can scale the side of a house, but I suspect not. But it allowed the scene to develop in an interesting awesome way, so go ahead and do it! Empower your character and empower the characters around you. It's not fun watching a 5 minute scene about two safecrackers trying to crack a safe. (unless its scheer and mcbrayer.) Let them crack it in the first few seconds and get to their RELATIONSHIP, which is where the interesting stuff is, pretty much always.

    Anyways, those are my notes on playing to the top of intelligence. Courtesy of everyone who has coached/taught me.
  14. Sugar-Snit

    Sugar-Snit is the bees knees

    More Questions

    Thank you to Gypsy for the invitation to ask more questions. And thank you to the forum for being so informative and kind.

    1) Is "teching" a show the same as the person who sits in the booth and makes blackouts or helps "edit" a scene for it to end?

    2) Is Second City a hybrid form of Harold? They don't really seem to "heighten" or stick to a theme - but they DO "yesand" A LOT. (Edited to say, maybe they DO heighten - once at a show I saw to players get into a debate over who was more athletic. Then they started doing cartwheels, then they were using their partners to hold them while they catapulted off other players. Is the the same as heightening in a scene? Getting progressively more and more absurd and hilarious?)

    3) Can some forms of stand-up be improv or must you have at least 2 players to be improvisors?

    4) Is it OK for players to laugh at themselves or the audience comments? I've seen it happen and when it was natural, it seemed to make the show even funnier.

    5) How can you avoid a "transaction" scene? Can you just throw in some new addition to the scene, like an escaped zoo animal or must you rely on your partner? Does it have to be PHYSICAL. Is straight dialogue generally bad?
    Last edited: May 6, 2003
  15. El Jefe

    El Jefe latitudinarian Staff Member

    Re: More Questions

    Yes. The tech person works the lights and sound. Sometimes they decide when to blackout; other times a director or someone makes that decision for them.

    I'm not the best person to answer this, but I think Second City does some long-form scenework. I don't know if they do Harolds. I do know that it is often said that Second City tends to emphasize improvisation as a means to generate material for scripted shows, rather than as an art in itself. But someone from Chicago should really answer this question.

    Stand-up tends to be prepared material, except for some stuff like interacting with the audience. So that would be improvisation in the general sense of ad-libbing, but it's different from long-form improvisation. I've never seen a one-person long-form improvisation, but if I did, I probably wouldn't call it stand-up.

    Sometimes you can't help it, of course. My teachers and coaches have always said that you should incorporate everything into the scene -- if you're laughing, then your character is laughing. Justify it. ("I'm sorry -- I just find funerals hilarious.") If your nervous, your character is nervous. If you misspeak, it's part of the scene. Use everything.

    You can avoid a transaction scene by always having a relationship with your scene partner. After all, it's not going to matter if you're in the general store talking to the shopkeeper if you're old friends and the scene is about the fact that you're dating the same widow. You just don't want it to be about what you're trying to buy.

    Another general rule is to do something instead of talking about it. If the scene is actually about a transaction, you're either spending the whole scene talking about the transaction, or you make the transaction, and since you've gotten what you wanted, your need is filled and the scene is basically over.
    Last edited: May 6, 2003
  16. spacedani

    spacedani whipping churl

    Re: More Questions

    I can speak to 1. and 3. and maybe even 4. and 5...

    Yes, "tech" is anything that has to do with lights and/or sound. When I tech Harold night, it's usually just playing music beforehand, announcing the host over a mic, playing music for the teams to come out onto the stage to, and blacking them out at the appropriate time when their Harold is over. But tech can also be mixing sounds, playing sound effects for a play (i.e. birds chirping or cars honking), operating a video feed or projector during a performance, changing the light cues throughout the show, etc.

    Stand-up is, by definition, usually not improv. However, one person CAN do improv on a stage. I'm sure someone else will have a hard example of this. Suffice to say one person can improvise for a half-hour, but it requires more concentration and skill, since they have no one to bounce ideas and react off of. One person can also play several characters. I seem to recall someone even doing a successful and highly entertaining One-Person Harold, but I can't remember who that is.

    This is a matter of creative license, but I personally don't think that that's a good thing to do. I mean, if an audience member gives a funny suggestion or something, I guess it's one thing to chuckle. But to laugh at your own work means you're not committed and in the moment. Same goes for laughing at your teammates when you're on the back wall. I mean, if something's HILARIOUS and you can't help but let out a snicker, so be it. But don't distract from what's actually going on onstage.

    That's a bunch of different questions. There are many ways to avoid transaction scenes, the easiest of which is to MAKE IT PERSONAL. Know the other person you choose to interact with in the scene. Make it about your RELATIONSHIP, not whatever it is you're doing. You could theoretically have an awesome scene whose premise is some kind of transaction, but where the two people know eachother and it's a metaphor for their relationship, or something to that effect. (Just don't be coy--if you're talking about breaking up with eachother, make sure that's clear to your scene partner and the audience.) You COULD also bring in something from the outside--new information--to change the direction of the scene, but you should also not just drop whatever has already transpired. For example, if the scene began with someone's tie getting caught in a shredder, you can't fix that just by bringing in a giraffe. Work with what you have, and make it about relationship. It doesn't HAVE to be physical, but it's always a good idea to have something going on in that environment, otherwise you become talking heads. Dialogue isn't BAD in itself, per se, but you have to trust that you and your partner are going to be "clever," and that's not always guaranteed. Also, "being clever" is not usually the best way to improvise. Coming from a place of truth and reacting off your partner, yes-anding and if-that-then-what-ing is what will propel the scene along. The environment will always be there, by the way, if you get stuck and need something to go to.

    I'm sure someone more experienced probably has an opinion on this, as well.
  17. El Jefe

    El Jefe latitudinarian Staff Member

  18. spacedani

    spacedani whipping churl

    What's a Nelson? Like a Jinx? If so, yep! Great minds think.

    edit: Oh, THAT Nelson! The "Ah-haa" was kinda hard to get in writing. I do that [nelson]ah-ha[/nelson] thing all the time in real life. Oh, and suck my tittie, Jefe.
    Last edited: May 6, 2003
  19. El Jefe

    El Jefe latitudinarian Staff Member

    Nelson is that bully from the Simpsons who says, "Ah-ha!"
  20. Sugar-Snit

    Sugar-Snit is the bees knees

    Nelson is my hero! ahh-haaaa

    Thank you for your thoughts so far. If anyone else has pointers or ideas, please elaborate.

    The question I'm the MOST shy about is: If I'm joining an improv group here in Atlanta (where there are NO classes) and I want to get better, should I just jump in and take their pointers during rehearsals (is that what you call them??) or should I decline because I have no experience and don't want to suck up their group?

    I guess the question COULD be worded better as: should levels stick together? Should less experienced improvers stick with beginners and allow the more experienced improvers to be funnier together?

Share This Page