“I always tell my students, the things that make us successful adults in the real world don’t help us to be better improvisers.” - Jean Villepique (from web interview about Camp Magnet)
“Improv rules tend to be life rules. They exist to make our work look more like life.” - Ian Roberts (from UCBT Level 101 Scenework Notes Handout)
(P.S. The question mark in the title of this post is intentional.)
This question has sparked a dozen different observations in my head, and it’s gonna take me hours to organize them- though I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’ve always found the inverse of these ideas funny, in a frustrating way. That is, a bad improv character would make a horrible human being.
"You put extra salt on your french fries? FUCK! I fucking hate you! I don’t wanna hang out any more!"
As part of the special week of shows leading up to The Del Close Marathon, The UCB Theatre is having the Harold Night Time Machine, a reunion of some of UCB’s best Harold Teams ever.
It’s going to be pretty exciting for the improv nerds, a group in which I definitely include myself. People who have been around for a while will get to see some of their favorite ensembles perform one more time. Younger students, who haven’t had a chance to see these great teams before, will finally get a chance to see them in action.
First up is Creep, which is the longest running team in Harold Night history. (Bastian is about to eclipse them, but they’re still second as of today.) I still think Creep is one of the most underrated “great” all-time UCB teams. They went on an unbelievable winning streak of awesome shows during their prime and they set a new standard for stage presence and acting on Harold Night. And their group games were always on point. Memorable scene: Anthony Atamanuik, playing a detective, is interviewing Birch, who is a tenant speaking from the second floor balcony of his apartment building, about a murder. First beat is hilarious. In the second beat, Birch initiates the scene as the downstairs neighbor. His initiation to Anthony: “Hey! Psssst! Don’t listen to her!” as he points to the character he had played in the first beat.
fwand is up last. It’s probably the team that the majority of the people in the audience will remember. The amazing thing about fwand was that they were all individually hilarious people, yet they took a giant risk as a team by doing organic edits in their Harolds. Their support and physicality was off the charts and, in a lot of ways, is unmatched by other teams past and present. One scene that sticks out to me: The suggestion to the Harold was “tea bag.” Dominic initated a group game where he just sat down on a chair, asleep. There was a momentary pause before everyone tiptoed in quietly and tried to tea bag him during his sleep. Right before they were about to do it, Dominic woke up, the entire group hid, and Dom looked around with a flashlight for any commotion. He went back to sleep again and the rest of the group tried to tea bag him again. They heightened this pattern hilariously: the group physically carrying Gil right on top of Dom, then Dom waking up and flashing an old-timey kerosene lamp, etc.
Okay, now I’m in the mood to talk teams.
The period that I most consistently saw Harold Night, before I got cast, was the spring and summer of 2006. The two groups that were really in their prime then were Creep and Mailer Daemon. So they’ve always been the two groups that I’ve held in a really special, exalted place in my memory.
Creep was packed with uniquely hilarious, weird, committed veterans. Atamanuik, Bernat, Cordero, Harms, Hiller, Karels, Ozols, Skinner. A lot of brilliant people passed through Creep, but that particular octet is my all-time favorite. Honestly, I can’t remember much of their work, I only remember how I felt watching them at the time. And from that memory, I consider them the best team I ever saw.
Mailer Daemon really felt like, the team that all the students connected to, the team we wanted to be on. I know I did. They were young and fun and brave and unbelievably cool. When I came back from summer vacation, starting my junior year at NYU and level 401 at the UCBT, I remember feeling deeply disappointed that they broke up- but I was glad so many of them were still together on fwand. When fwand emerged as one of the all-time greats and a huge audience favorite, I always felt like I was in on some secret- “of course they’re awesome, they’re most of Mailer Daemon, and those guys were amazing.”
Besides Mailer Daemon, Creep and fwand, the other two teams that I will eternally remember and rave about- the last casts of 1985 and TRUCKS. 1985 was so poised, and knew the Harold so well, that they could break it and transform it with ease. Of all the famed ‘thematic/organic’ teams in the theatre’s lineage, like Arsenal or the Shoves, 1985 was the one I really got to see and got to love.
and TRUCKS- what a force. Unbelievable artistic bravery and supportiveness. When you go through your prime the same time as fwand and 1985, it’s just an unfortunate fact that you’ll be underrated. But my goodness. Those guys delivered some of the most relentlessly fun and weird shows I’ve seen on Harold Night. And there’s no real ancestor or heir to their style- they are entirely their own animal. I’ll carry a torch for this team, forever.