5 Reasons why I love the Harold
The Harold, for those not familiar, is a structure used in longform improvisational theatre. It is performed by improv troupes and teams across the world. In the Harold structure, characters and themes are introduced and then recur in a series of connected scenes. It was first performed in California by The Committee in 1967
I have done improv in the UK for a good 20 years. In the last few years I’ve noticed a penchant for genre based and narrative improvisation. This may be due to the success of shows like Showstopper! The Improvised Musical* and Austentatious in the West End. However I’m also still a sucker for good old Chicago style longform.
So here are 5 reasons why I love the Harold**
It is what it is
The Harold defies genre. It doesn’t have to be comedy or theatre or however else we want to define improv on a stage. I’ve seen funny Harolds and sad Harolds. I’ve seen baffling Harolds, terrible Harolds and deep, awe inspiring Harolds. It is unashamed to be art, whatever that art is.
It doesn’t need to make sense
The Harold is more akin to a blue painting on the wall of the Tate Modern than a comedy show. I find it liberating that a thematic way of improvising doesn’t need to wrap up neatly and make traditional sense. Big bold moves can be made and doubled down on with no fear. You can ‘Warhol that Shit’ as improv teacher and performer Joe Bill says.
It doesn’t need to be linear
My dear mentor Bill Arnett once said to me ‘Improv is not good at Stories.’ Whilst I have learned the joy of narrative improvisation (like with The Maydays show Happily Never After, I do love being released from thinking about story beats I might want to hit and being free to be in the NOW. Being able to improvise your improvisation as it were.
It’s about the improvisers, not the story
Narrative improv is about serving the story. I believe the Harold is about the power of the connection between the improvisers onstage and what their collective brains add up to. In narrative, sometimes you need to step up and be the protagonist or step back and be the supporting cast. In the Harold you can be both all the time.
You can release your weird
If the Harold is Art by Committee, I also love that there is so much room for individuality. The moves come from the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, background, experiences and humour of the improvisers performing it. No 2 Harolds are the same, just like no 2 humans are, and ain’t that a beautiful thing.
Lately I’ve been combining my love of the Harold with my love of musical improv and it’s been satisfying to see how the music enhances the Harold and vice versa. So I’m very excited to share my passions in my upcoming Musical Harold course in Brighton in the new year. Come and join me!
*Full disclosure – I am in this show
** For this blog, when I say Harold I mean ‘Harold thinking.’ For me that’s looking for themes and connections rather than a story with a character’s journey
The Musical Harold course runs for 6 Wednesdays from January 18th from 7pm til 9.30pm at BHASVIC in Brighton.