Student Guest Blog: Level 5 Week 1

What does the suggestion bulldozer bring to mind? To an intrepid tribe on a Monday evening it was evocative of smoking your parents’ cigarette butts and trying to be an adult, or seriously dysfunctional relationships, as well as radical environmentalism. What about grapefruit? Does it make you think of hail, or keeping your nuggets clean? A sampling of the gems we discovered in our first week of not only studying but also doing and being the form known as the Harold.

The Harold

Whenever I hear about The Harold, it always makes me think of the question, “What about the Maude?” Maybe the Harold becomes the Maude if you do the Harold enough. More on that later, much later, maybe in a few years. To keep it short, Harold is the improv form developed and championed by Del Close. And if you do not know who Del Close is by now, then you probably haven’t read this far.

Anyhow, it is an honor to take level 5 with Steve Wilder, the grand pooh-bear of Voodoo (not self-appointed, just a label I came up with). Having had a variety of experiences with instructors at Voodoo, I felt almost immediately gelled with Steve’s manner and energy. Perhaps it’s just me, and I feel more comfortable about improv in general so it’s possible I am more gel-worthy than in prior classes. But he seems to have an intelligent twinkle and smirk that conjures a sage-like sensibility, and his belly laugh can instill confidence in the meekest of performers.

As I sat with Steve mid-break, I told him I still have trouble with self-doubt. He said he had done improv for ten years and still felt like he still was a novice. The good teacher is always a student, and the student always teaches the teacher, among other things. He does not carry the posture of a know-it-all, and his curiosity about learning is apparent.

For example, the suggestion horticulture was given and stimulated a description of chopping down a tree, which led to mention of something called a “back-cut”. Steve inquired more about what a back-cut was and how it was important in chopping down the tree. I pondered how getting absorbed in something like the back-cut adds layers to the improv experience, both for the performers and the audience.

Attention to these details in improv make it so rich and therapeutic. As an instructor the feeling I get from Steve is one of discovery and wonder through fascination, immersion—and doing.

He may not be an expert lumberjack but knowing much more in the improv realm, Steve took the lead in sharing his insight on the Harold. In our first class we focused on the Opener:

The Opener

Steve says it is very important to get the opener down. Really nailing the opener makes the rest of the Harold easier.

Here are some general takeaways from the Opener class with Steve:

  • Start the opener with high energy to engage the audience; the energy can subside and increase again throughout the opener, but high energy is generally better
  • Get three ideas for scenes from the opener
  • Avoid character development in the opener
  • Try to develop away from the suggestion; the suggestion is just the starting point
  • It’s easy to start binging on virtual food in the opener and get stuck in food and eating instead of growing to concepts.
  • Commitment: even if the thing it is not funny or seems like it sucks, if the audience sees that we are committed to it, it will work.

We tried out a few different types of openers.

The Monologue

Here are some tips and takeaways from the monologue:

  • It’s better to share from true personal experiences to avoid getting into character in the opener.
  • It’s ok to tap out someone mid share in the monologue if you want to go with an idea; especially if someone is slowing down in their monologue; this helps to keep the energy high.

Scene Painting

Not an opener I’d tried before. Here are some takeaways from scene painting:

  • Pay respect to the objects in the scene
  • Avoid having humans (characters) in the scene
  • It’s ok to build on the last object or description when scene painting.

Example: we started with a stack of cases of freeze dried food and beer. A propane grill and a vent extending from it into a wall. Freeze-dried hamburger patties sat next to the grill. A table stood next the grill with a bible opened to revelations. A loaded shotgun lay on the table next to the bible.


I dread flocking; it seems so dorky and awkward and theater geeky, but somehow I’m growing into liking it. Takeaways:

  • Start by mimicking the last action / sound
  • Let changes happen; try not to force them
  • Avoid marching; its really hard to get the rhythm out once it starts.
  • Add words or phrases for ideas but not for characters

Example: the suggestion “cruise ship” started with horns and led to sinking motions to shouting out “Jack!” to shouting out random names, from freezing cold to the Oscars and envelopes.

We didn’t get to try the “organic opening” (It makes me think of either an orifice of a free-range chicken, or the debut of a health food restaurant), although I’m sure we will have the opportunity in the weeks to come as the Harold unfolds before us.

And remember kids, keep your powder dry and your nuggets clean!