Getting on in my improv age, as well as my actual age, I have become less and less impressed in the cookie-cutter Harold. Del, from what I have read, never intended the Harold to be the end all be all in improv forms. It was a blueprint and it was up to the improvisers to build their Harold as they saw fit. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Harolds I see, day-to-day, class-to-class, Harold night-to-Harold night, are 8 semi-terrified performers performing someone else’s form without a sense of their ownership.
One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.
Then I took Chris Gethard’s 501 at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade last year and near the end of the class he threw us the keys to the Harold, telling us in no uncertain terms to make it our own. The result was a performance which we, in the class, termed the “Pink Harold”. It was ours, it was passionate, it was inventive, it was unwatchable. But it was during the Pink Harold that our class realized that with enough support, inevitable listening, and a heaping of group mind — you could do just about anything to a Harold or improv and have it work.
Chris Gethard’s Explosion class, performing under the name ‘The Raw Harold’, has perfected the explosion into something which is truly stage worthy. The class, split into two non-permanent teams by Gethard, opens with something which most closely resembles an organic opening. The group then slides into scenes. The scenes themselves look to loosely follow the Harold structure, but they also seem to follow the focus of the whole piece, rather than stay wed to scene centric themes.
When it is working, the stage is energized and the performers operate in mode often seeing the moves before they are made. There is a sixth sense about the support. Performers seem to always be in the right place at the right time. The scenes last Tuesday, for the most part, really hit me. They were unlike other class shows. Even though there were seasoned professionals and harold team members mixed through both groups, I did not get a sense of any one performer overwhelming the stage.
The first Raw Harold, with the suggestion of skewer, most clearly maintained the structure of the Harold, but had a certain non-linear scene progression that was really fun to watch. The players were playing side games with the main scenes, that intersected and weaved through everything. What was refreshing was to see the team fully risk everything on stage. From the few glimpses of players on the back line, it was clear that a few performers were a little terrified, but to everyone’s credit they performed selflessly in every scene. Abra Tabak’s interchange with Greg DeSantis from the sidelines was a wonderful overplay to the main scene’s seriousness.
The second team, with the suggestion of wrestle, had a wider scope than the first. Their opening was an explosive wrestling match which quickly evolved into a battle of the sexes. This battle of the sexes then was truly explored by the team, leading into fights, arguments, and taunting from both sides. The Harold had referees, some adept pimping, and a show stopping confrontation between Brendan McMullen and Jennifer Bartels about his roughing up of Katie Schorr. Brian Berrebbi also did a very graceful job, being the most most experienced performer on stage, of directing focus without stealing focus of the scenes.
How do you know when you’re on the way? When your map no longer serves you.
What I came away with from watching the Raw Harold was a sense that these performers had made the Harold form their own. With that ownership, were not thinking, but rather playing — which is what I think Del would have wanted from his life’s work. I truly believe, that all performers currently studying or performing at UCB should take notice of these performances. They are inspiring, perhaps a little rough around the edges, but also more daring than the majority of Harolds I have seen performed recently. Well worth the extra cup of coffee Wednesday morning.
The Raw Harold continues every Tuesday night at 11pm for the next 3 weeks. The Raw Harold is named after the gay leather bar on 7th Avenue called Rawhide which is offering 2-for-1 drink specials after the show for the length of the run.