This is crazy. Absolutely crazy. The beginning of our 2015 performance season has been non stop. Two PAC shows, networking through performance and workshops at the Fine Arts Academy and UAA, submitting for Lower 48 festivals, the list goes on. This weekend alone we had four shows over two nights spread between Talkeetna and Anchorage, culminating in our season premiere of the Harold. But you know what, why the hell not? It takes a lot of work to make a brand and nurture an environment where performers can grow and experiment. When the load gets heavy and the stakes get high, it is time to take a step back and realize, why the hell not? Although this game can be crazy, it’s a hilariously fun ride and this roller coaster isn’t even close to finished.
Some people think performing during Fur Rondy, with so much activity downtown, can help boost your numbers, but I have typically found the opposite to be true. The more options, the harder the sell, which is why I’m excited over a hundred fans came out to view our Harold and After Dark combo last night at the Alaska Experience Theater. We all had a great time and we got some awesome vibes in the reception line. As always, amongst the crowd are family and close friends, who choose to spend their evenings with us and our crazy dreams of experimental comedy. Simply put, thank you.
Our short form this weekend was strong. There are always a few games we can do better, where we can focus on building a scene a little more than a gag, but those were far and few between. I had a great fondness for our After Dark One Act Marathon, where we came together as a team to build concise characters with back stories and bring it all together for a nice story arch to end it. We need to continue our stage work to push scenes forward, not sink back into the curtains and diversify our environments to avoid all players standing in a straight line on stage, but we’ll get there and these are minor in context. We also need to start thinking about our f-bombs, which got a little too crazy in the final Objection set of After Dark. I would also like to get to a place where our earlier showings have none. The meat is in the long form ladies and gentlemen, and for that we turn our attention to the foundation, the original, the experimental, the Harold.
Erik Martin, a great performer for the Iditaprov team in Talkeetna, asked me this weekend if I get stage fright. My response was no, I don’t get stage fright as people typically describe it, but I offered a counter view. I can certainly be uncomfortable on stage, especially when approaching something new. Yes, as a director of a troupe, I have to be a rock and encourage our performers to come together as a team to conquer, but I’m going to open up a bit to our blog readers out there. Sometimes I’m in over my head. But when these moments come around, I remind myself of two facts. First, this is a good feeling. In improv, never be comfortable with what you are doing. When you get comfortable, you’re done in this game. Our shows sell risk and if we ever lose site of that, our performer/audience connections will weaken. Second, and the true beauty of this art, it only takes a line. When you think you offered it up horribly, when you are losing the set, all it takes is one strong choice to lift it to something amazing.
The Harold is a tricky set, and it’s not because of a specific structure or group games. It’s tricky because the content has to converge in the end. Your set-ups have to pay off and your audience needs to view a solid evolution of scenes to something greater. It’s so tricky, the Harold is typically a 601 style class in most improv training grounds across the world. Some students will engage in months, years of courses before they take a run at this format. Did I get stage fright? No. Did I think we were in over our heads, daring to take on an advanced format without the same structured learning in place? Yeah, I did. For the last four weeks I have been struggling as a director to balance three rehearsals with warm-ups, skill buildings, a new format and embedding myself in the format. In the end, rehearsals just ended up being Harold after Harold, with me contributing notes that felt like diagnosing symptoms and left me questioning my ability to inspire my team. But we took the risk and asked why the hell not. I stand in front of you now having learned something very powerful about our Yeti performers: We are ready for this and so much more.
Our Harold last night was a success. I’m still reflecting on this simple truth with a wide smile on my face. We started with a great theme around the Iditarod, built three scenes touching the content of the monologues it inspired, and converged the scene work after the second group game into a post apocalyptic environment shared by our set’s characters. The pacing was right, we had some great physicality in our group games and the audience was engaged the entire set. We did exactly what we needed to do, we found the game and the fun, relied on playing to their strengths and didn’t get lost in the advanced nature of the format. My fellow performers, I say to you now, nice job, the risk paid off, let’s keep being risky.
There were areas needing to be improved, there always are, but given my inclusion in the set it is hard to take specific notes to discuss today. Instead, the focus needs to be on future rehearsal and how we should structure it to unlock more potential in our Harold. I would like to experiment more with looking at the A/B/C scene sets between the group games as a playground rather than forcing us to revisit in sequential order. This will also apply to the third and final beat, where we should continue experimenting with what works and leaving some content behind. Last night was the first time we didn’t revisit all three scenes in the end and decided to bring them all into the same environment in a single wrap-up. I loved it and I want to keep experimenting with this. Ladies and gentlemen, be uncomfortable, bathe in the feeling and work through it. We can attest, that lazy Sunday afterward feels so much better and you carry with you a rare pride. Thanks for listening, we hope you come takes risks with us again soon.