My Memories of Harold (not proofread or fact checked)
I began taking classes at the ImprovOlympic in 1995. When I registered (over the phone) there were only two levels, named “Charna” and then you had “Del.” That was it. In the middle of level “Charna,” another level (“Two”) was added. From then on there was Level 1, Level 2 and then Del.
I had great fun with my Charna class and I learned scene work and a rudimentary Harold. For Level 2 I had Miles Stroth, and I learned the 5 Openings and 15 Group Games that were Harold-standard at the time. There was another level added (bringing the classes up to Level 1, 2, 3, DEL) during my Level 2 but Del had subbed into one of my classes and this happened:
Del: I liked that young asian man. He can skip Level 3 and come right into my class.
Charna: Do you mean Joe Yau?
Del: No, I know him.
Charna: Was it Ken Hamada?
Del: No, not him either. I know him.
Charna: Was it Jason Chin?
Del: Must be.
And that’s how I got to take Del for a year. And we had a great time. We experimented with the Harold; different genres, acting styles, philosophies, etc. We had to come to Del ready to go with the ability and skills that make up a good Harold player.
While this was going on, I was put on a Harold team at the beginning of Level 2 (which was the norm back then.) It might seem weird, but the numbers made sense. Though there were less students/players, there were also only three nights for shows. And sometimes there wasn’t enough audience to do the show. It was a fascinating time, to be honest. Charna usually gave us notes as she was there for just about every show. The very first team I was on was called “ThroatCulture.” We had to find our own coach and we asked Rich Talarico (who just won a mother-freaking Peabody Award as a writer for Key & Peele!!). He was one of my favorite performers at the time and turned out to be an even better coach. I was on, I think, five different teams within three years as things turned over quite a bit. So, there was ThroatCulture, Mo Green, Bucket, They, and then The Pat Shay Dancers. I have a ton of stories about each and every team, but I’m going to concentrate on the last one for several reasons chief among them is that we lasted just about eight years. eight years!
The Pat Shay Dancers.
During one of our first meetings, Pat Shay said that we should name the team after him since that’s all anyone really cared about (he was joking.) Several “yes, and’s” later, the full team name became “Charna Halpern Presents a Peter Gwinn Production of The Pat Shay Show starring Pat Shay and featuring The Pat Shay Dancers.” Peter was our coach for most of our tenure.
We loved doing the Harold but with our particular philosophies; longer, more patient scenes with more thematic group games. Were we always successful? Of course not, but we kept trying. And trying to learn and grow.
I remember at one point I was talking to Noah (before he was teaching but he was still a respected/feared mentor in the building) and he said that I was lucky to be on such a good team. He told me to keep an eye on my teammate Angela Forfia because “she’s doing the best thematic work in the building.” Once I really turned a critical eye on what she was doing I began to notice the subtle and smart things she was doing for each show.
Even beyond rehearsing and performing once a week, we became a group of friends and colleagues. How could we not? These were, and are, some of the smartest, kindest, most capable people I’ve ever met. I’m going to list us all and I’m going to miss someone and I’ll be the world’s biggest asshole and I already apologize but here we go in no particular order:
Molly Hall, Pat Shay, Claudia Wallace, Rich Sohn, John Mulhern, Dan Sipp, Dina Facklis, Chris Day, Angela Forfia, Ann O’Neill, Bryan Irzyk, Kate Siepert, Rachel Miller.
These are the people I was on a Harold Team with. We should have a tontine.
As an improviser, the work I did with The Pat Shay Dancers was my favorite. There was never a time where I thought, “I can’t wait to do something besides The Harold.” I did do other things, of course, but The Dancers did the Harold and I relished it. There was a significant amount of time (two, maybe three years) where we were frequently evenly split gender-wise and that was great fun.
Eventually, as ST:TNG told us “All Good Things…”
Pat Shay himself had already moved to NYC when we were ignominiously taken off the schedule (and really, you’re not an iO performer or team if you don’t have a f’ed-up schedule story; it’s like saying that you’ve never had your heart broken. (I’ll tell you my story if you ask politely in person.)) We had a big night scheduled with one opening team and then our final show. Our coach at the time, Dave Gilley, paid for Pat Shay to fly in for that show and I will always be grateful for that. For some reason I was chosen to say a few words after our show and I teared up and cried like a sap. I think I even said with sincerity “I promised myself I wouldn’t do this…”
Even after our Harold time at iO, we did a run of shows at the Live Bait Theater (which is now the Pub Theater) called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” You can even buy it on iTunes! Check it out here.
That was the last and best Harold team I was on. And we’re reuniting this Saturday for the CIF. I’m oddly not nervous at all.. I’m just looking forward to seeing my friends and playing with them once again. They’re all thinner and more attractive and I seem to have absorbed all their lost weight.
I coached the Harold Team, Deep Schwa for almost fifteen years. I don’t coach them any more.
In some serendipitous timing I have just started coaching a brand new Harold Team (we don’t have a name yet!!) I’m very excited to work with them. I like them very much and if they only achieve half of the joy, half the rewards, half the wonder I did, they will be very lucky, very happy indeed.
The Harold is a wonderful medium for improvised artistic impression. Some might call the Harold I love “old school.” I disagree. It’s Original School. I have these scrolls that I transcribed from my time with Charna, Miles, Del and Peter and it’s these scrolls that I use in class and with teams. The Harold is a collection of ideas, themes, and motifs expressed by collection of comrades, friends, and colleagues.
LONG LIVE THE HAROLD!