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'Harold' All About Comedy Off the Cuff

It’s called the “Harold,” though its name is somewhat arbitrary.

This extended form of comedy improvisation seeks to create order out of chaos while waxing comedic on a theme suggested by the audience. In the technique, a small group of actors builds on the theme while relying on each other to support and determine the outcome in a series of skits and games. The result, whether logical or not, is usually hilarious.

On Thursday, December 5, 12 Smith students -- six at a time -- will demonstrate the “Harold” during two improvised performances of skits, games and musical pieces based on audience suggestions.

The shows, which will take place at 8 and 9:30 p.m. in the TV Studio in the Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts, are part of Special Studies in Improvisation, a theater department workshop taught by Hillary Haft Bucs, a lecturer in the department.

In the class, Bucs teaches “improv” games such as those popularized by the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? and, closer to home by SIKOS (Student Improv and Komedy Organization at Smith), to which three of the class members belong.

“The objective of the class,” Bucs explains, “is for students to learn the techniques of strong improvisational scene work and to enhance each student’s ability to be spontaneous in the moment on stage.”

The “Harold” -- so named at the suggestion of one of the actors who pioneered the technique -- was created in the 1960s by Del Close, director of Second City, the renowned comedy group in Chicago that launched the careers of John Belushi, Bill Murray, Mike Myers and others.

“The ‘Harold’ brings improvisation to the level of an art form,” says Bucs. “The actors improvise three rounds of scenes and by the third round have to connect all the scenes at some level into an exciting climax and resolution. The beauty of the ‘Harold’ is that even if it fails, it is magical and very funny.”

Bucs studied with Close and performed the comedy method at his Chicago company, ImprovOlympics. Bucs is a graduate of the Second City training center and Players Workshop in Chicago, and received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University. She has performed as an improvisational comedian in Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh.

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