Next Friday, Tantrum welcomes Jim Howard back as guest monologist.
The great thing about Jim—OK, one of the great things about Jim—is that he doesn't filter his stories. He's not afraid to say difficult things, or talk about taboo topics or reveal deep shame. It's challenging, in a good way, to work with him because his monologues take emotional detours. He starts off funny, loops around something poignant, and might stop at melancholy.
So when we rehearsed, we focused on a couple of things: patterns/themes and playing it real (which we talked about here.).
The more sophisticated a troupe gets, the more they can pull out of a simple story. Newer troupes tend to play the monologues pretty literally; experienced groups play the themes and metaphors. Tantrum is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes our scenes are a sidestep away from the monologist's stories. Other times, we peel away a few layers. And every now and then, we hit a metaphor. In our last show with Jim, we brought back scenes about semen swimming upstream (seriously, why would you miss this show?) in a later monologue about his wife swimming with dolphins.
The trick is being smart, but not too obscure for your audience—or worse, your fellow players.
Which is why I think part of being good at long form is practicing pattern games—over and over, rehearsal after rehearsal. Partly because it's thinky work—just try a clover leaf without getting in your head ("Pattern game where word association is used to generate ideas, often referred to as a clover leaf because the pattern arcs out with associated words and returns to the suggestion, and is repeated two additional times." —Wikipedia). Eventually, you not only find new ways to jump from one word or thought to another; you also start to understand how your fellow troupe members' brains work.
(One disadvantage of not being in town that teaches Harold work: You can't see people do pattern games as openings over and over and over—that's part of figuring out how they work. You can do it without seeing it—it just takes longer. After I saw my first Harold team—the Plum Dumplings—at iO before they even had their own theater, I tried to help teach Lighten Up pattern work from that show, Del's notes and a friend's description. It was like handing someone a pile of scrap metal and some tires, describing what a car looks like, and saying, "Go!")
Anyway. It takes practice plus time. Tantrum celebrates birthday number two in September (note to self: cake to the festival?). The cool thing is, I think we're just scratching the surface of what we can do.