Harold Be Thy Name Edition – Edited by Natalie De Paz
Harold Be Thy Name is SCIT’s very own Harold Team. The Harold is an old form with specific constraints that include an opening, then three scenes, then a group game, then another three scenes, then one more group game, then a run, which is a montage of scenes in which the worlds of previous scenes collide. Don’t get it? Come see for yourself! Harold Be Thy Name currently performs twice a month at SCIT. Check out our show schedule here.
Justin Zell coaches Harold Be Thy Name and teaches the Harold form in SCIT’s Level 5 class. We sat down with Justin to discuss his experience with the team, as well as the Harold as a form. Our conversation has been edited.
Tell us a little bit about the history of the Harold. What is the significance of SCIT participating in this long tradition?
Harold was created in the ’60s by Del Close and the troupes of actors he worked with in Chicago and San Francisco. It changed over the years to the form we know today, but its goals were always the same: to have a group of actors create a piece of theater on the spot that involves the whole group. It is a monument to what Del believed long before anyone else did. He knew that improvisation is not just a tool to create written comedy; it is its own art form. We are proud to be part of that tradition.
Were you ever on a Harold team? Tell us about a favorite moment you had performing on a Harold team.
I was on a team called The Wilhelm at the People’s Improv Theater (The PIT) in New York City that did a version of Harold called Speed Harold. Much of the same structure is there, except Speed Harold does not have an opening.
One favorite moment I had with The Wilhelm illustrates how there are no mistakes and that there are many forms of support. I stepped out for a scene and no one joined me. I walked forward looking suspicious. At that moment, the rest of the team realized stepping out didn’t make sense. They decided to “yes and” my initiation by making sound effects of animals and other things that go bump in the night. In both beats of the scene, I was the only actor visible, but I was never alone. It was so fun. It is one of the times on stage that I felt most supported.
What are some of the improv muscles you prioritize exercising when coaching Harold Be Thy Name?
Identifying, playing, and heightening the game of the scene is something we’re always working on. In particular, with Harold Be Thy Name, we focus on exploring and expanding the worlds we create, especially during the run (third act of Harold).
What is the invocation and why does it matter?
The invocation is a very theatrical opening for Harold. It was created by Del Close. And like many games he came up with, it hearkens to Ancient Greek theater, when they told stories of the gods.
It starts with a suggestion of an object from the audience. The players first describe the item in an objective way by saying, ‘It is ____.’ Next they personify it and explore points of view about the object saying, ‘You are_____.’ Third, they raise their hands to the heavens and declare ‘Thou art ___,’ turning the item into a god. Finally, they embody aspects and points of view about the item and say ‘I am ____.’
Invocation is designed to create as much information from a single suggestion as possible. It explores different points of view about the same thing and opens up the minds of the players and the audience. I think that is so important today. The conversations we’re having online rarely explore how different ideas and points of view can be simultaneously true. We need to connect to these contradictions. Life is full of them.
Describe the vibe of Harold Be Thy Name in one word.
Wicked Smart. Oops. That’s two words. Okay. Wicked. I mean SMART. This is one of the most intelligent teams I have ever worked with.