Overanalyzing Harold Night At UCB LA

Sticks Author: Steve


Steve posting here.  Two weeks ago, I was in LA and had a chance to see Harold Night at the UCB Theater in Hollywood.  At the time, I sent a breakdown of what I saw because I thought it would help The Sticks to see how the parts come together.

I was able to watch two house teams (Elroy and Flap Jackson) and enjoyed them. A lot.  The people with me seemed to like it also.  Since both teams did fairly standard Harolds, the structure was pretty easy to spot and therefore very helpful.  Here’s my slightly edited breakdown.  Sorry, but I’m the type who analyzes way, way too much. Indulge me!
I saw two teams perform. Both teams performed a pretty classic Harold. They both started with a suggestion from the audience (the first team got “convertible” the second “sneakers”). Both teams started with a word association  to get the themes. Many teams use the word association game to start a harold. It fills the role of the monologist we saw in Asssscat by permitting the groups to expand the theme beyond just the suggestion. In the “convertible” group, this word association game took them into ideas of mid life crisis, compensating for a boring life/small penis/stale marriage, freedom, speed, taking chances. The team just played off of each other downstage – all of them sort of lined up, holding the steering wheel, talking (not over each other very often) and building on the ideas in a free association way, but just in a simple character of a person driving the convertible. The game was theatrical and organic, quick and odd in a good way. It ended within a minute and then the scenes began. From the word association game, people were clearly listening to one another as throughout the rest of the 30 minute performance, specific themes drawn from the game continued to come out – sometimes specific phrases.

The scenes began and were pretty clearly identifiable. Unlike the scene we watched together the other night (Beer Shark Mice team on the Art By Committee DVD… the submarine one) both groups created Harolds that were much, much simpler.

Scene 1A
In the convertible group, the 1A scene was pretty much a couple who had hit a midlife crisis together. They decided to take chances but damnit TOGETHER. They had just robbed a bank. The game of it was their attitude toward it. It was as if they had read a book on how to do things together that would normally suggest things like learn to dance together or take tennis lessons, but their book was about violent things. Their characters made it funny because they were clearly boring, suburban types (hey!).

Scene 1B

1b was a scene about two guys. 30 something friends. One of the guys had just gotten a convertible and he loved it because it got him out of his boring life with his naggy wife and live-in mother. The game of it was that the second guy was amusingly subservient. “I would go anyway with you in this car! I’m your #2, we’ve clearly established that…” and they would then list the silly places they would go in it.

Scene 1C

1c was a woman at a bar doggedly singling out one guy that she was trying to pick up. This scene did illustrate something very interesting to me. “yes and” might have dictated that the guy in the scene allow her to pick him up right away even though her opening pick up line (and the initiation for the scene) was “do you have a cell phone? I want to call your mother and introduce her to your new wife – me.” But since “yes and” doesn’t really mean patent agreement with everything – it really means “i am accepting the world you built and will add to it” he responded in a more real way with “ummmm… what? Jesus… I’m just trying to have a beer here.” That created the game for them – she became weird stalker girl. Her character would reappear in the second beat later trying to steal a child from walmart because she was lonely.

The First Beat

So 1a, b and c had happened all of them pulling in varying degrees from the word association ideas inspired by original suggestion of “convertible”. This group stayed closer to the original suggestion than did the other who had gotten “sneakers”. The sneakers group pulled ideas of growing up (changing sneaker sizes), athletics etc.

First Group Game

In any event, after the first beat of the convertible group they began a group game. In reading about Harolds, this has always been the part that was the least clear to me. It happened in the Asssscat video, but it was so smooth that it doesn’t often wholly standout as a group game. The whiteboard “dead cowboy in the basement” was probably the clearest group game. In the “submarine” one we watched, the group games were much more buried.

The “convertible” team did group games that were much more apparent. It was interesting to watch them work because it’s not like anybody signaled or said “okay, whole group off the back wall… here comes the group game”. Once the 1c scene was edited (and it , like almost all of the scenes that both groups did, was “sweep edited” by a person on the back wall at a high point to end it on a laugh or cool connection) the group just began a group scene. I don’t recall the specific group thing they did at this point, but it was less wholly “scene” structured and a bit more like the word association game they did at the start.

Second Beat

After the group game, 2a began. This time our couple had moved forward in time. Their appetite for spending time together doing violent things had continued. The idea from 1a was heightened. The husband brought in a bound and naked third person and presented it to his wife as a present. She was delighted by the gift and they intended to kill the man together.

2b and 2c evolved similarly. in 2b, the man who had the compensation convertible now had a horse. In 2c, the woman stalked a child in walmart. etc.

Second Group Game

The group game here now was initiated by the convertible/horse man. He pulled a couple of chairs forward and the rest of the group followed. Interestingly, he initiated a simple “road trip with the family” scene, but because the group didn’t know what he intended as they moved their chairs forward, there were 5 chairs in a row with him kind of in the middle. It did not look like a car at all! The group simply took advantage of this mistake once they realized that they were supposed to be a family in a normal car. They pointed out to their dad that he was always odd, always getting different vehicles like a convertible and a horse and now he had gone ahead and modified a 747 to drive on a highway. This became the game, but he had actually intended a different game. He tried to kick off a game of “hey family, oh we all have such different and unique personalities” in an effort then I would imagine to have each person create a weird personality. But since the 747 thing happened, his game simply didn’t get going.

From here they moved quickly into the third beats with some resolutions in rapid fire. It all wrapped up pretty well.  There wasn’t a transcendent moment of all three worlds coming together,but some good connections were made. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well done.  It was.  It was very funny.

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