It’s been a rough week or two for me.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
Anyway, my Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Class is now over. I got a lot out of it, I feel like, getting better at drawing premises from openings, really finding the emotional commitment in my harolds that I struggled to find before, learning how to respect the other people in my class and deal with my own expectations of myself. It was all difficult, but in the end, like many things in life, I grew.
As I’ve said here before, the point of writing down these notes and putting them on the internet was that Neil is a performer who is very highly respected, within the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and beyond, who does not teach classes often anymore (he said he would not teach another class here until at least August), whose philosophy I admire and so I thought I could (with Neil’s permission) share.
If I were to take the one thing that I got from this class, it would be to take things personally in scenes. Be real and in the moment and react as you would in life if this was important to you. Doing so will lead you to the sort of emotional commitment that will lend itself to interesting scenes and games that will not be cliched because they will be filtered through the lens of your experience.
That said, that’s my extrapolation.
So here, for the last time, are the notes from our last class. Hastily scrawled, certainly incomplete, almost definitely inaccurate. Use them for what you will.
And thank you to my classmates and especially to Neil, for the experience and the notes.
This week try to put it all together:
What we are shooting for is to do truthful high commitment invocations which lead us into truthful emotionally committed scenes and fun games. Commitment is the name of the game.
For second beats, follow the fun. You can follow tangents as damage control, but only do it if it’s the more fun thing, otherwise let’s reinvest in one or both of these characters or go analogous if we earn it.
On Anxiety And “Pressure”: all of us are very concerned about how well we do in our performance or on stage, but it leads to second-guessing and selfish play, you may steam-roll over someone’s ideas or invent. The trick is genuinely to make your scene partner look good and make their ideas look like genius. If you take yourself out of the equation and are really doing that, which is hard to do, then you’ll be doing the best work of your life, even if the thing you did was something your scene partner set up. Then the credit you get is funny, because you’ll be getting credit for other people’s moves, them yours. Because the stitching behind the tapestry you’re showing everyone is everybody helping each other, everyone owns the laughs.
There’s no way to teach that or to make people do that, but if you do that your anxiety will be taken care of.
Warmup: character telephone, match in the moment, not call and response and then match, pass it on.
You want to make sure if your behavior is interesting or funny, we want the philosophy behind it to pass the bullshit test. Just like anytime you’re talking to someone and they are blowing smoke up your ass, is like a weak justification on stage.
The why behind the why- you can always justify something on a surface level, the worst example of which is “because you’re crazy”, But if you give the why behind the why, we get to a playable attitude.
For instance “I like paper because paper is awesome” vs. “I believe in physical things, everything is too impermanent”.
What’s the thing behind “It’s not you, it’s me”. The reason why that’s so cliched is because even if it might be true it doesn’t reveal a deeper philosophy or reason.
When you cease to do what you love or be who you are, that’s one step towards selling out. Object monologue warmup (tossing around a mimed object and telling a truthful story about it) gets you towards remembering truth.
If you’re gifted as sleeping in dog shit, find something that you remember that’s important as opposed to “I like the smell of shit” but if I can convince you that I’m the guy that likes that for an interesting reason (“because I want to get back to animalistic nature”) then we are there.
Do a Harold with invocation then do an “I believe” Harold. Both characters in a scene should say at some point I believe____. Shouldn’t be inelegant because that is often what game is, a point of view or reaction. Every character that’s a good character can say that
Take big swings for thou art. An invocation gone wrong is when people leaned on silly voice or phrasing. Of course you can rephrase what you already said but if we’re not saying anything new we’re not using it for what it’s good for.
Make sure we’re not playing too glib, even if we are having funny philosophies, make sure to acknowledge reality/the other side even still
When you’ve got a simpler game from the opening, don’t ignore it in favor of other games we’ve played before.
Be careful of treating something that might be close to an improv cliche (candy for drugs, for instance), we can play it, but then we need to treat it even more seriously/personally.
You can’t be resting in thou arts, we should feel like we are increasing our speed and our momentum, not just casually rephrasing things. Take the idea from the mundane to the sublime, take it there with the delivery and the content. When you get to the big ideas, we find things we can play in our piece.
Doing three line scenes where we get “who what where” out is clunky and should not necessarily be how we start scenes, but it’s to make you miss those things when they are going in to your scenework.
I always say to earlier level students that audiences are so happy to hear what they are looking at that they will forgive clunkiness.
In that way, even a clunky explanation is better than a meaningless pattern.
It’s not a rule that we always connect the scenes in the first third beat. Never play for the blackout at the end of your pieces.
The trick of this class is step out and mean business immediately, be emotionally committed and real and then play what’s actually fun, not what you thought would be. Once we’ve got our game, push it and don’t let it die.