Del Close is a genius. Or a jerk. Depends on who's telling the tale. What's undeniable, though, is that he created an improv form that's continually talked about and performed: The Harold.
We here are offering a special advanced class on The Harold. And to you get you excited about it, we asked teacher Tim Yager about the course, the form, and his experience with it.
How long have you been performing The Harold? How did you get interested in it?
I was learning or performing The Harold for most of my three years in Chicago. I went through the training center at the iO (formerly Improv Olympic) where The Harold is their signature form put together by the crazed and allured Del Close. When I moved back to Dallas, I got involved with DCH's FIAD, which was coached by my buddy Cody Dearing. I got interested in The Harold when I read about it in Truth in Comedy while I was taking classes at 4 Day Weekend in 2004.
What makes The Harold unique to improv?
Probably the fact that it's so fucking hard. It's incredibly simple to screw up and difficult to master. Its success is due in part to what improvisers call group mind. It does have a structure to it, but that can be messed with. Ultimately it depends on everyone in the group being on the same page, and that ain't easy.
Aside from that, I'd have to say the group games set it apart from other forms. There's a group opening at the top and then group games throughout, articulating each "movement" of the piece. People either love 'em or hate 'em, but it's definitely a big part of what makes Harold unique as most forms don't incorporate these unless they happen organically.
What skills from The Harold can performers learn that they can apply to other forms of improv?
This is precisely what I love about The Harold: it's an amalgamation of everything you've ever learned in improv and then some.
Probably the biggest skill one has to hone is listening. Loads of people think they listen, but for Harold to work, everyone has to be listening extremely carefully--superhuman listening. Listening for small bits of information, understanding deeper meanings behind initiations, watching for some interesting physicality or sound and having the gumption to bring things back.
The second biggest skill is: TAKE A FUCKING RISK!
Both of those will go a long way in any show you're doing.
Who are some Harold troupes that you recommend as great examples of the form?
The Reckoning, hands down. Carl & The Passions, Bullet Lounge, Cook County Social Club and Revolver. All Chicago teams at iO.
The Reckoning is truly inspirational to watch when they're all together, or even when they're not. They elevated the form and really enjoy fucking with it, making it their own.
What's the most difficult thing about the form and how do you overcome it?
For me, it was thinking thematically. Harold is a form that strives to find meaning in the suggestion. If the suggestion is monkey, we don't want to see a boatload of scenes about monkeys, we want to see scenes about evolution, animal testing or being 96 percent identical to some superior person and just not quite being "good enough." It's about taking an idea and exploding outward. To overcome that, you have to train your brain to be thinking this way. Luckily, it already does this, but we have to train it to be even more alert.
For others that I've taught Harold to, I feel like their biggest hang-ups are understanding that the structure of Harold is malleable and not as rigid as they think. Often people will be on the sidelines wondering what part of the show we're in and not paying attention to what's happening in that moment.
Thank you, Tim, for taking the time to answer our questions. Registration is still open for The Harold course for improvisers who have graduated from the DCH Training Center. The seven-week, three-hour course begins this Saturday, January 7, at 4:30 p.m.