So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:
5 stars = FREAKING EPIC, gigantic story, everything works well, my mind is blown that a human being thought this up.
4 stars = love this book, it's just not as humongous in scope as a 5. But it's totally awesome and everyone should read it, it's a keeper.
3 stars = mixed feelings (this is where the "I think others might like it, it's just not for me" reviews are likely to go). Not that bad, but has some issues, or it's an okay story but nothing really stands out to me as being memorable. It was a pleasant enough read for a few days, but I'll probably just end up giving the book away rather than rereading it again.
2 stars = generally pretty terrible, but not 100% so. There was at least one thing in this book that made it not totally horrible. This book isn't really recommended to all and sundry, but you might get some value out of the one thing if you try.
1 star (rarely seen here): It's a wallbanger. Nothing is redeemable about this book, it's utter crap, and I probably only finished reading it so I could do an awesome bitchrant about it and I can't justify doing that to books I didn't finish.
Disclaimer: There were so many juicy quotes in this book that most of the review is going to consist of them. No, seriously, that's gonna happen. If I spent like a week reading and typing these things up, y'all can read 'em.
The copy of this book that I'm reading is straight up from 1978. Yay libraries. Anyway, the editor of the book got the idea for it after realizing that most of the theater/film people he admired were graduates of Compass Players, Second City, and a couple of other improv theater companies cut for space. He got the idea to interview some of the best known alumni about their participation back in the day, dating from the mid-70's. He was shooting for Rashomon-style, but was unable to get a few interviews such as Viola Spolin and Elaine May...but what can you do. But he still got a loooooong list of professionals to talk about theater, bias, and each other. He also starts out with a brief theater history, starting from the concept of commedia dell'arte in Renaissance Italy and moving on to David Shepherd's creation of The Compass in 1955, and the later creation of Second City, which rolls on. He starts out by interviewing Shepherd and Paul Sills, director of Second City.
Shepherd doesn't get all that much play in this book, probably because he wasn't doing it for all that long by comparison. But here's an interesting rundown on him by Theodore J. Flicker:
"He introduced Shepherd and me, and we liked each other very much. Our aims were the same. Popular theater. Though I always felt that he was a touch too visionary, and he always thought I was a touch too crass. He really did believe you could do improvisational theater on tabletops in a lunchroom of a Gary, Indiana, steel mill and that the workers would adore it, when, in fact, what the workers really wanted to do was have lunch and "Stick your theater up your ass, who the hell are you?" But it seemed to me that with improvisational theater, David had come up with the best possible idea. That maybe this was the answer to everything."
Amusingly enough, the author points out:
"As might be expected, the community portrayed here is by no means one big harmonious bowl of good will. Undeniably, certain personality clashes developed at The Compass and The Second City, and, to the extent to which I think they are relevant to the work the companies did, I have incorporated mention of them."
Hoo boy, is this ever the case! A LOT of drama especially comes from the mention of Paul Sills, everyone's "favorite" big shot director.
"A good deal of this book is devoted to various reactions to working with Paul Sills, and quite a bit of it attests to his often upsetting behavior in rehearsal. I cannot confirm or deny these impressions on the basis of my own experiences."
Regarding the interviews he did with Sills, the editor says:
"He agreed to meet with me on the condition that he have final approval on quotations attributed to him. With this caveat in mind, I taped an initial session with him and then prepared an edited transcript which I submitted for his approval. He felt it rambled and proceeded to cross out two-thirds of the transcript, eliminating most of what I felt provided insight into the driving forces behind his work. In the meantime, we had become friendly, and I told him I thought what we had so far wasn't a sufficient representation of his perspective. A year after the first session, we taped a second. I prepared an edited version of this and sent it to him for his approval. This time, he cut only about one-fourth of the material."
As a former journalist, this makes me wince a lot. DAMN, dude. Anyway, let's start this puppy out by letting the man speak for himself: Paul Sills, everyone!
"I think it's a dark hour and everybody better man the pumps and get in there and get ready because this society has turned out an awful lot of slaves--people who are too afraid to move one way or another--and that could cause a lot of trouble. Samuel Adams said it: "If the spirit of liberty sleeps in the people this will become a nation of tame and contented vassals." That was his prophecy and he wasn't about to let it happen then. I pick up that pride. To me it's very important the people get a little heart and spirit back. Now I can't go up to some guy who's putting in a lot of dead time with his life and say, "Look, you're screwing your own existence." But if the actors hit it, everybody will pick it up."
"Improvisation has led me to some kind of understanding of the spiritual reality, but I can't express it clearly. I do think that theater and religion and education are very closely connected. Many church people are very aware of the spiritual value of the games. They didn't see it in The Second City because it was clever people entertaining in revue form. But with the kind of group improvisations that happened at The Game Theatre, they become very aware of the spirit's presence. The authentication of the spirit--which has something to do with the church--is vital to the theater and is something that the theater can and must do."
Hoo boy. I have to say, that's some deep stuff and I like those thoughts. This seems to be the dilemma of Sills in general: good thinker, horrible ....execution, I guess? I did a fun little roundup of the quotes about him so you get the drift.
Andrew Duncan, who cites Paul Sills as a chair-thrower: "Don't drop your pants," he'd say, "but if you do, make sure your ass is painted blue."
Mike Nichols: "Paul never taught me, except as a person."
Severn Darden: "Actually, I feel he has no talent at all. He's just an opportunist in it for the money. Paul Sills is in it for the buck. You can quote me on that." (Wait, he's in theater for money?! Wrong business for that!) And also: "I mean, Hitler was a simple megalomaniac. Sills believes it! Can you imagine the hell he goes through!"
Sheldon Patinkin: "I love Paul very much and respect his talent as much as anybody I've ever met. He has also given me more hellish times in my life than anyone who is not a relative. And I have been just as rotten to him"
Paul Mazursky: "I think perhaps the most important thing that Paul Sills has done is to create an arena and constant work for a lot of people--work that is obviously gratifying and intelligent. I'm glad I was part of it, but I feel I would like to see some of them drop their pants."
Joan Rivers: "Paul Sills never looked me in the eye. There's nothing to say about Paul except that he hired me and then I don't think we ever connected."
Avery Schreiber: "He's a great technician of the human spirit. He can make things happen. You might not like what comes out. You might not like the hammering that goes into it sometimes, but then... he's mellowed out lately. There was a time when many people could hold Paul up with a sort of reverence. I can't do that any more. Because he's a conduit. A conduit for creative experience. We can grow and get nourishment by drinking from a cup, but the cup itself, sad to say, can't partake."
Robert Klein: "Paul Sills is not a great communicator. That was the real crack in the arch of his reputation. Paul knew what to do but couldn't always communicate it."
Wowza. But seriously, there is so much delightfully catty stuff the interviewees say about each other! It's so much fun! (And must have been so ugly after book publication!)
Bernard Sahlins: "For instance, I like David Steinberg very much. But I would no more think of having him in a company now than the man in the moon because he uses the other actors for his own advancement with the audience, his own advancement in life. He's a user. He's totally self-involved. He's a Duddy Kravitz. And I like him. I love being with him. He's charming, he's sentimental and sweet, but he's a prick in that way."
Robert Klein: "I mean, we we would get into a scene and he would maneuver it so that I'd be sitting in a chair as he was pacing back and forth getting the attention....He always wanted to dominate the scene. When those little edges of advantage occurred, he always got them... By the time we closed, it was ridiculous. It really was like a David Steinberg jamboree!"
For the record, David Steinberg on himself: "I was selfish onstage, not just with [Robert Klein]--with everyone. I was selfish offstage, too. Let me put it this way: I feel that my Second City years were like my asshole years."
Joan Rivers on Bernard Sahlins: "if I heard him say one more time, "If you don't like it, we can replace any one of you with a bartender...." There was no regard or respect for anybody." Did he make any creative contributions, the editor asks? "As far as I was concerned, only the salary check."
And then there's Severn Darden, who is apparently QUITE THE WACKADOO. It's a shame I never heard of him prior to this, he sounds up my alley of crazy.
Alan Arkin:"What was his way of working? No one will ever be able to tell you, including him. God knows how Severn works! Severn was like working with cybernetic Jell-O. It's like working with an abstraction. He's not like a human being." How did you relate to that? "You couldn't. It was like playing Ping-Pong into a sponge. An enormous wet sponge. Whatever you threw at it would stick. I don't know how to describe him. He's not like any person I've ever known."
Paul Mazursky:"Yes, his religion is New Orleans cape. He was at a New Year's Eve party at my house several years ago and he stood on the law and mooed like a cow all night long. That's all he did. People would walk by and he'd just be there and moo."
Joan Rivers: "Severn pinched my boobies the first time I met him. It was just madness. I could never relate to Severn. He wore a cape and carried a walking stick. One time he brought me Nivea oil and poured it all over my back."
Avery Schreiber: "I said to Paul, "Who'll I audition with?" He said, "Severn," and I chickened out. I said, "I won't go onstage with that man. I'm afraid of that man!" I told Paul, "I can't," and I didn't."
Severn Darden on himself, for the record: "I don't think I've ever had any dignity that I know of."
Bwahahahahahah. And just for fun, here's a choice moment with Del Close:
"About this time--I guess it was '58 or '59--I was taking acid for the Air Force. They were investigating REM--rapid eye movement--and I started as an experimental subject. The point is they would take me to the dream lab in Brooklyn, hook me up to this machine, I would dream, and when REM indicated dreaming, they'd wake me up and say, "Are you dreaming?" "Yes, I am, you motherfucker." "What were you dreaming about?" "I don't know. Bunny rabbits." I didn't like it. I got tired of it real fast. About this time, Ted Flicker offered me a part in The Nervous Set, so I split for St. Louis. I left a forwarding address, and I got a letter that said, "Dear Mr. Close: You still owe the United States Air Force one dream."
What a job, man.
Reading a book this old does make you think about what was going on during that time period. The author takes care to ask about things like "how were women treated in the theater" and "how were non-white people treated in the theater," which gets some...interesting... responses. Like this one from Roger Bowen, answering the question of why there are so few black people doing improv:
"I think that satiric improvisational theater is definitely a cosmopolitan phenomenon and the people who do it and its audience are cosmopolitan people who are sufficiently liberated from that ethnic background to identify with whatever is going on throughout the world. They know what a Chinese poem is like and what Italian food tastes like. But I don't think most black people are cosmopolitan. I think they're more ethnic in their orientation, so when they're black actors, they want to do black theater. You see, ethnic art tends to emphasize, enhance, and reinforce certain ethnic values, to say, "Our group is a good group." But when you get out of that and you identify with a larger intellectual environment, you say, "Well, gee, that was pretty narrow stuff." You get a concept of the brotherhood of man and how much alike people are rather than how different they are. You become de-ethnicized and you become a citizen of the world. And the thing you busted out of becomes a chrysalis, a discarded self, and the tendency is to turn on it. Black people aren't at that point. The ethnic experience is very enjoyable, but it excludes the outer world. It's always "Us against them." In some ways it makes it easier for a person to get along because he doesn't have to fight every single battle."
After reading that, I was all holy god, dude, you are lucky you were saying that shit in the seventies instead of now. Wowza.
The various questions on sexism were better handled, especially since the editor did take care to interview women on their experiences as well. The ladies commented that they essentially had to play more limited roles due to the culture of the time, and there were less slots available for them in companies.
From the Q&A with Mark and Bobbi Gordon:
Q: Because it was related to what was going on socially--that women were more restricted in the roles they could play in society. Mark: Yeah, and we reflected that. It's interesting that almost all improvisational companies had five men and two women or four men and one woman. I don't think that's changed even today. Q: What kind of women did you find yourself playing, Bobbi? Bobbi: I felt more comfortable in the stereotyped roles, I guess. In a lot of the scenarios I was the wife or the mistress. Elaine, on the other hand, was always the psychiatrist or something like that. I tended to play traditional women. Elaine always went against that.
Anne Meara: "It being 1958 and women not having as much access to certain professions, whenever we got a suggestion from the audience--say, "A dentist in the Alps"--it would instantly be be funny if either Nancy or I started by playing the dentist."
Joan Rivers: "They hired her and me at the same time and they told both of us, "One of you isn't going to make it." This is the kind of thing they used to do. I can't remember if it was Paul or Alan Myerson who said this. "One of you girls isn't going to be here in a couple of weeks. Now, go onstage and be funny."...It was situations like this that were created by the management. If they had left us alone, it would have been a glorious period for all of us."
"Don't you think it makes you uptight? You both want the job, you both want to be actresses, you like each other, and you're both blonds? I can't tell you the hysteria."
Robert Klein: "The women were mostly less pushy and aggressive, so they did fewer scenes, so there were fewer women in the companies. It's kind of a mirror of what was happening in society generally."
On the other hand, there are some things that just came off...quaint, I guess. Such as Joan Rivers saying that pretty ladies don't have to be funny, and Avery Schreiber thinking that girls don't learn about teamwork via team sports in the way that men do, so they didn't have enough experience at that to trust themselves. Though to be fair, he also says later that he thinks the changes in society are improving the situation.
And then there's Gilda Radner: "I actually believe there is going to be a turnover in comedy, that you're going to see a larger number of women comics. Because women are where the social action is, and wherever the social action is is where the comedy is going to be."
Okay, and finally I'm gonna get to some actual Deep Quotes About Improv Theater:
Theodore J. Flicker: "The thing that makes improvisational theater so fascinating, and something which happened then but I was unaware of at the time, is that each company takes on its own character and the character of its audience. For me, the only reason for doing theater, as opposed to making films, is that in the theater you have live people. If you can't use that aspect--really use it--what the fuck is the point?"
Jerry Stiller: "The glory of this improvisational business was that you found something you could never do in a role as an actor. You all of a sudden were making a direct connection with your audience from your innermost feelings, because there was no time to prepare or fabricate or give anything that was less than true. Coming on at that moment with an instant selection, the audience was watching you, watching your mind think. You were exposed. You were absolutely open. There was nothing you could hide, and the audience recognized that. If you allow yourself to be totally open, the audience will respond in a way you won't find with any other format. That's why so many improvisational people were so absolutely successful."Bill Alton: "So the Game was about really accepting the reality. What it was about was that if you were a member of this group that plays the Game, if someone comes up to you and goes "Bang!," shooting you with an imaginary gun, no matter what you are doing, you fall down and do a death scene. Say you're winning a Pulitzer Prize for a novel you've written, and just as they're presenting it to you I go "Bang!," you've got to do a death, and the more convincing and outlandish, the higher your integrity and friendship is. We started doing this in London and it got really crazy with everyone shooting each other all over the place. We finally had to limit it to one shot a day, and you never knew when it would happen. The Old Vic used to hang out at The Establishment, and they got in on it. There are people all over the world doing it now, and if you see one of them and you shoot them you know you're going to die. I once shot Del on Greek Street in Soho and he died for something like four blocks."
Joan Rivers: "I was never truly happy at Second City, but it made my whole career. By working with these people, I learned self-reliance and I found out for the first time in my life that what I thought was funny, other people thought was funny also. I suddenly found out I didn't have to talk down in my humor, that there were a lot of people who could understand what I meant. It was wonderful that I could make a living making bright people laugh."
Avery Schreiber: "We got into transformations, and it got to the point where Dick and I could do transformations so fast--shift the reality of a scene and make an agreement so fast--that it became almost like ESP. Doing the transformations helped open me up a lot, helped me present my own personality onstage."
"I believe what she (Viola Spolin) and Paul have gotten into will last longer than this country. Thousands of years. Their names will be forgotten, as will all of ours, but what they've done has really opened up a new vista for communication."
Richard Schaal: "We are all one story, and the techniques or approach to that is that the story leads you. You don't lead the story, it leads you."
"What improvisational theaters and workshops would want to help everybody discover is a deeper intuitive--a wider understanding and more feeling. I've seen stiff spines soften and narrow minds broaden; people just go through incredible metamorphoses in this work.
"Well, it changed my life, and everyone I've known who's ever really been touched by it has been changed or altered for the better, I think."
Alan Alda: "For instance, I'm very interested in parapsychology and I see that in the games. I'm always talking about psychic connections. In the Apple Tree workshop, I would start off with a warm-up exercise which was a telepathy experiment. Everybody would have a paper and pencil and would get off by himself or herself in a corner of the room and try to draw a picture everyone else was drawing, but not know what it was going to be. In other words, try to hook into the same picture with everyone else. The interesting thing was that we did it for ten weeks and the first week there were a couple that were the same, and every week after that there were more and more pictures that were identical. Sometimes the shared drawing was an abstract design and sometimes a literal drawing. Nobody knew what it was going to be. In the final week, we had about seven or eight out of ten drawings that came out identical."
"I think you'll get a lot more people who become so-called stars coming out of improvisational theater than you would expect to get from any other group by virtue of what improvising gives you as a person.
Now I don't think anybody really knows what makes a star, but one of the things is probably self-confidence. Another is the ability to relax under the most harrowing conditions. Certainly improvising teaches you that. And there's another element which is extremely strong, but very hard to define, and that's magnetism, for want of a better word.
Up to now it has been thought that people are either born with magnetism or they're not. But I think improvising really makes you more magnetic, increases your natural magnetism. As you can guess, my own feeling about magnetism is that it is a telepathic thing--a kind of largely nonverbal bond between the performer and the audience. I want to amend that and say that I think it may be a telepathic thing. Of course nobody really knows what it is. When I say it's a nonverbal bond between the actor and the audience, I mean that there's a middle zone between direct, conscious signaling and telepathy. It's not a broad leap between the two. There's a continuum of communication that we all engage in, and between conscious communication and telepathy there's a middle zone of unconscious communication such as body signals. We process a great deal of information through this middle area of unconscious communication, and sometimes we learn more about another person unconsciously than we do consciously. I think it's this area of unconscious communication that lays the groundwork for telepathy. "
Oh, Alan Alda, you delightful hippie.
David Steinberg: "The goal at Second City was to be the smartest and funniest you could be. Comedy up until then had never been like that. Before, the audience went to see the comic and the comic played a schmuck they could feel superior to....Now I don't look at this as a lesser form of comedy. It's just a different form from what I and a lot of the younger people are into. What Lily and Richie and I are saying is, "Let me tell you what I think is funny." We're assuming that we are part of the same community as the audience and that they know what we know. We don't treat the audience as being above or beneath us. They're our peers."
Robert Klein: "Also, the poise and the general confidence you get from the Second City experience! You're on your feet six days a week in front of a live audience getting paid and getting into shape. Why, that's wonderful! There's nothing better! It's one of the purely positive aspects of my career, and I guess that's why I'll always think fondly of it and almost everything to do with it."
J.J. Barry: "So what I'm trying to create now is a totally safe environment where someone can actually make an asshole out of himself, which I wish the hell people would do. Because if you can't do it in a safe environment, you certainly can't do it in the world of reality out there. Because we know what that's all about."
Gilda Radner: "One thing about working at Second City--there would be nights where this magical, chemical, extrasensory thing would happen between you and the others, and something incredible would happen between you and the others, and something incredible would happen onstage... And later, you'd be so excited about what had happened, you couldn't sleep all night. You'd be trying to remember exactly what made it click so well and made it come together like a piece of art, with rising action and a climax and an end."
"Del said to us, when you are onstage at Second City, you can always get all the attention, you can always steal the focus and be the funny one. Just stick your finger in your nose and you can get focus. But to equal the other people onstage--to give them their moment and then take yours and go back and forth--that was the much more difficult and greater thing. To really have a game of catch with somebody is the true excitement of improvisation, and it's so much more rewarding.
Another thing about Second City--it was always an outlet for the emotion sand the agonies of the day. You would make comedic choices based on what was happening in your life. Your work would come from your soul. Sometimes there'd be a problem that you couldn't solve in your everyday life, but it would come up in a scene, and acting it out you'd solve it."
"What did we have? A revolving doorway, two other doors, and six or seven chairs. And we could make them anything we wanted."
"It took me a year and a half to get to the point where I could go mad on television. To feel comfortable enough to go insane. Second City afforded that opportunity all the time. The people who were best at it were mad. It's madness to begin with. It's you, writing on your feet, listening to the audience, watching yourself. If you think about it, the concept of creating a reality onstage, and then having to bend that reality to wait for the laugh...it's schizophrenic.
I miss Second City so much. Throwing a hat on and being a whole character, or sitting on a chair and pretending it's a car, or bringing on a stick and pretending it's a gun. I miss when you could just pretend anything in the world."
Around the end of the book, Joan Rivers says, "And I'd like them to throw a dinner for us so I could pick up an award--and my acceptance speech would be: "They were sons of bitches, but we owe it all to them." The editor finishes up by recounting an event like this that actually happened--the University of Chicago held a luncheon and handed out medals--though Joan didn't show up for it. Reunion performances happened with both theater groups, and the editor clearly had a very good time watching and briefly recapping it all--especially since he'd been too young to see them in their heyday.
Four stars. It's a very good read. I quoted a ton from it, but there's
Daphne's letter writing to her mother is interrupted by Draco, Crabbe and Goyle, lugging in a ton of books. He needs help in reading. Say what?
"These," Draco Malfoy said importantly, "are all the library books Miss Granger borrowed between April 1st and April 16th. I thought I'd go through them in case there are any Clues there, only then I thought, maybe you should help because you knew Miss Granger better."
Daphne stared at the books. "The General read all that in two weeks? " A twinge of pain went through her heart, but she suppressed it.
Speed reading for the win! Go Granger! (too late)
"Well, I don't know if Miss Granger finished them all," Draco said. He held up a cautioning finger. "In fact, we don't know if she read any of them, or if she really borrowed them, I mean, all we've observed is that the library ledger says she checked them out -"
Harry's had an influence on YOU, I see.
Daphne suppressed a groan. Malfoy had been talking like this for weeks. There were some people who clearly were not meant to be involved with mysterious murders because it did strange things to their minds.
Hahahahahahahahaah. I look forward to "Draco Malfoy and the Mysterious Missing Wand" or whatever the Agatha Christie JK Rowling equivalent of this might be. She tells him she can't read that fast and he begs her to skim looking for notes or bookmarks. Then Millicent comes in screaming that they're all doomed. "It's Professor Quirrell!"
"Well, finally," someone said, as Millicent tried to catch her breath. "He's only got, what, ten days left to go bad?"
"Eleven days," said the seventh-year who was running the betting pool.
OF COURSE THERE'S A BETTING POOL IN SLYTHERIN. You classy asses.
"He's gotten a little better suddenly and he's going to summon the first-years for our Defense final! By surprise! In fifty minutes! "
"A Defense final?" Pansy said blankly. "But Professor Quirrell doesn't give exams."
"The Ministry Defense final!" shrieked Millicent.
"But Professor Quirrell doesn't teach anything from the Ministry curriculum," objected Pansy.
Daphne was already fleeing to her room, racing for the first-year Defense textbook that she hadn't touched since September and screaming curses inside her mind.
Well, that's a last-minute ambush! Whee! Glad it's not me!
Cut to the exam, where Ravenclaws are crying and calling "Quirrell" more evil than Grindelwald and You-Know-Who. Daphne sees "Quirrell" smile slightly and then talks herself out of seeing it.
Halfway down the page was the first exam question.
It was, Why is it important for children to stay away from strange creatures?
There was a stunned pause.
One student began laughing, she thought it was from the Gryffindor section of the class. Professor Quirrell made no motion to censor it, and the laughter spread.
Nobody spoke aloud, but the students looked around at each other, exchanging glances as the laughter died down, and then as if by some unspoken agreement they all looked at Professor Quirrell, who was smiling down at them benevolently.
Daphne bent over her exam, wearing a defiant evil smile that would have done proud to either Godric Gryffindor or Grindelwald; and she wrote down, Because my Stunning Hex, my Most Ancient Blade, and my Patronus Charm won't work against everything.
This kind of reminds me when one of my math teachers handed out 3 out of 4 pages of the practice test as our actual exam. It should probably tell you something about my dummy math class that (a) I was the only one who noticed, and he said "Shhh" and (b) the curve was still so low he would only give me an A-.
Oh, high school. I am so happy to never have to take a math test again.
Cut to Harry on the last page of the exam.
Even Harry had needed to quash a small bit of nervousness, some tiny remnant of his childhood, upon reading the first real question ('How can you make a Shrieking Eel be silent?'). Professor Quirrell's lessons had spent roughly zero time on the surprising yet useless trivia that some idiot had imagined a 'Defense class' should look like. In principle, Harry could have used his Time-Turner to read through the first-year Defense book after being notified of the surprise exam; but that might have unfairly skewed the grading curve for others. After staring at the question for a couple of seconds, Harry had written down 'Quieting Charm', and included the casting directions in case the Ministry grader didn't believe that Harry knew it.
Once Harry had decided to just answer all the questions correctly, the exam had gone by very quickly.
Hah. You think?! Like Harry has to think about answering an exam "correctly." Damn, kid. I know what he means by that, but don't try it!
The most realistic answer to more than half the questions was 'Stunning Hex', and many of the other questions had optimal solutions along the lines of 'Turn around and walk in the opposite direction' or 'Throw away the cheese and buy a new pair of shoes."
Wow. This school really is kinda ripe for the Dark Lord pickings at this point, aren't they.
The last question on the test was "What would you do if you suspected there might be a Bogeysnake underneath your bed?" The Ministry-approved answer, Harry could in fact recall from his read-through of the textbook at the start of the year, was Tell your parents.
What?! Not "stun it?" I wanted to stun it!
The problem with this had occurred to Harry right away, which was why Harry had remembered it.
After some pondering, Harry wrote down:
Dear Ministry grader: I'm afraid the real answer to that is a secret, but rest assured that a Bogeysnake would present no more trouble to me than a mountain troll, a Dementor, or You-Know-Who. Please inform your superiors that I find your standard answer prejudicial to Muggleborns, and that I expect this failing will be corrected at once without any need for my direct intervention.
Sincerely, the Boy-Who-Lived.
Dude, I thought you were going to answer the questions with the right answers! I mean, much as I'm delighted on this answer, you're gonna lose a point. And that's so not Ravenclaw or living up to Hermione's memory. Just because she's no longer here is no reason to slack.
I'm so Ravenclaw.
After the exam's over, "Quirrell" has one last speech.
"My young students," he said softly. The seventh-year student had her wand trained on the Defense Professor's mouth, so that they all heard his voice seeming to come from right beside them. "I know... that probably seemed very fearsome to some of you... it is a different kind of fear from facing the enemy's wand... you must conquer it separately. So I... shall tell you this now. It is the custom of Hogwarts... that grades are given in the second week of June. But for my case... they can make an exception, I think." The Defense Professor smiled his familiar dry smile, tinged now as though by a suppressed grimace. "I know you are worried... that you were not prepared for this exam... that my lessons have not covered this material... and I quite forgot to mention... that it was approaching... though you should have known... it would come in time. But I have just now magically checked... the answers you have given on that... terribly, terribly important final exam... though of course only the Ministry grade is official... and assigned your full-year grades taking the results into account... and magically written your full grades down on these parchments," Professor Quirrell tapped a stack of parchments on the side of his desk, "which will now be handed out... an incredible spell... is it not?"
Every professor ever is all "easy grading, I want this!" The exams float out. Harry gets Exceeds Expectations rather than Outstanding (told ya on that last answer).
In another world, a distant vanished world, a little boy named Harry would have shouted with indignation about receiving only the second-highest grade. This Harry sat quietly and thought. Professor Quirrell was making some point, and it wasn't as though the exact grade letter mattered in any other way. Was Professor Quirrell saying that Harry had done relatively well, but not lived up to his full potential? Or was the grade meant to be read literally, that Harry had in fact exceeded the Defense Professor's expectations?
Or that you were a smartass on the final question.
Quirrell announces that everyone but one person passed. Even Neville got an Outstanding. Except for the otherone who isn't here....
"has had a Dreadful grade entered on her record... for failing the only important test... that was given her this year. I would have marked her even lower... but that would have been in poor taste."
The room was very quiet, though a number of students were staring angrily at the Professor.
"You may think that a grade of Dreadful... is not fair. That Miss Granger was faced with a test... for which her lessons... had not prepared her. That she was not told... that the exam was coming on that day."
The Defense Professor drew in a shaking breath.
"Such is realism," said Professor Quirrell. "The only important test... may come at any time... be better prepared for it... than she was. As for the rest of you... those who have received Exceeds Expectations or above... have received my letters of recommendation... to certain organizations beyond Britain's shores... where your training might be completed. They will contact you... when you are old enough... if you still appear worthy... and if you have not failed an important test. And remember... from this day... you must train yourselves... you cannot rely... on future Defense professors. Your first year of Battle Magic is over... you are dismissed."
Wow. Wow. Well, that kinda shocked everyone. I think I'm glad Hermione's dead so she doesn't have to know about this.
Also, what certain organizations?!? Intriguing.
Harry holds up his grade to "Quirrell," who says it's the same grade he got first year. Harry's too verklempt to say thank you, so he just bows and leaves.
Three and a half stars. A bit of hard going and shock, but interesting.
This title makes me go "uh-oh," right off the bat. Also that now it's June and "Quirrell" is sick and the unicorn blood stopped lasting even for a day. He's collapsed at dinner. Madam Pomfrey tried to stop him from teaching, but he said he was dying anyway and would use his time as he chose. So now he's forbidden from doing anything else, hah. And has TA's and people floating him around.
Watching Hermione die had hurt more than this, but that had ended much more quickly.
This is the true Enemy.
I feel ya, Harry. Harry can't do anything.
Cut to Harry visiting "Quirrell" in the infirmary. He's reading "Thinking Physics."
"This -" Professor Quirrell said, and coughed, it didn't sound quite right. "This is a fascinating book... if I'd ever realized..." A laugh, mixed with another cough. "Why did I assume the Muggle arts... must not be mine? That they would be... of no use to me? Why did I never bother trying... to test it experimentally... as you would say? In case... my assumption... was wrong? It seems sheerly foolish of me... in retrospect..."
Harry was having more trouble speaking than Professor Quirrell was.
Wordlessly, Harry reached into his pocket, and laid a kerchief on the floor; which he unfolded to reveal a small white pebble, smooth and round.
"What's that?" said the Defense Professor.
"It's a, it's a, Transfigured, unicorn."
Harry had checked the books, had learned that since he was too young to have sexual thoughts he would be able to approach a unicorn without fear. The same books had said nothing about unicorns being smart. Harry had already noticed that every intelligent magical species was at least partially humanoid, from merfolk to centaurs to giants, from elves to goblins to veela.
Anyway, he did it and it made him cry while he did it.
Harry would just have to hope that, if you didn't kill the unicorn to save yourself, if you did it to help a friend, it would be acceptable in the end.
Awwww. "Quirrell" forbids him from doing it again, and Harry says this one's already doomed so you might as well take it.
"I kept thinking there was nothing I could do," Harry said. "I got tired of thinking it."
Well, there was something. Harry wants to know if Quirrell knows of any way to save his life--and Quirrell goes all snakey. Oh boy. Harry's heard of the Horcrux and brings it up. Quirrell declares it meaningless. Why? It creates your own ghost instead of your victims and implants it into a device--it only has your memories from the time it's made. Not exactly actual life and you're easier to get rid of. "Quirrell" admits he considered it, but it's not to his taste. He de-snakes. Harry asks if there's a full recipe for the spell, maybe he could do it ethically. Hah.
"I had thought... to teach you everything... the seeds of all the secrets I knew... from one living mind to another... so that later, when you found the right books, you would be able to understand... I would have passed on my knowledge to you, my heir... we would have begun as soon as you asked me... but you never asked."
Even the grief surrounding by Harry like thick water gave way to that, to the sheer magnitude of the missed opportunity. "I was supposed to - ? I didn't know I was supposed to - !"
Oh, that's depressing and unfair! (And I say that after yet another Mother's Day in which after the fact, I found out I was "supposed" to be giving her a surprise party.) Anyway, "Quirrell" says he thought better of it and his path wasn't a good one in the end. Harry tries to convince him otherwise and it doesn't work.
"I dislike to sound cliched... Mr. Potter... but the truth is... the Arts called Dark... really are not good for a person... in the end."
This is the Star Wars Palpatine moment there, isn't it.
Is there anything unsaid between us, "Quirrell" asks.
"I am not dying today... mind you... not right now... but I do not know how long... I shall be able to converse."
Harry has a lot of things, way too many things, but...can you go snake again? He does. Harry says he learned how the Killing Curse works--but what about that time in Azkaban? Was that a lie? (Might as well admit it now, Harry's in till the bitter end.) Quirrell de-snakes and tells him a riddle of the spell. When Harry knows the answer to the puzzle, he'll know the answer to the question.
"There is a limitation... to the Killing Curse. To cast it once... in a fight... you must hate enough... to want the other dead. To cast Avada... Kedavra twice... you must hate enough... to kill twice... to cut their throat with your own hands... to watch them die... then do it again. Very few... can hate enough... to kill someone... five times... they would... get bored." The Defense Professor breathed several times, before continuing. "But if you look at history... you will find some Dark Wizards... who could cast the Killing Curse... over and over. A nineteenth-century witch... who called herself Dark Evangel... the Aurors called her A. K. McDowell. She could cast the Killing Curse... a dozen times... in one fight. Ask yourself... as I asked myself... what is the secret... that she knew? What is deadlier than hate... and flows without limit?"
A second level to the Avada Kedavra spell, just like with the Patronus Charm...
"I don't really care," Harry answered.
The Defense Professor chuckled wetly. "Good. You are... learning. So you see..." A pause of transformation. "I did not wissh guard dead, after all. Casst Killing Cursse, but not with hate." And then a man.
Ooookay then. Well, good to know Harry doesn't want to know that one.
Harry swallowed hard. It was both better, and worse, than what Harry had suspected; and characteristic enough of Professor Quirrell. A cracked soul, for certain; but Professor Quirrell had never claimed to be whole.
Anything else to say? Are you REALLY REALLY REALLY SURE there's no hope?
"I have a strong preference for your life, over your death, Professor Quirrell."
There was a long pause.
"One thing," whispered Professor Quirrell. "One thing... that might do it... or it might not... but to obtain it... is beyond your power, or mine..."
Oh, it was just the setup for a subquest, said Harry's Inner Critic.
All the other parts screamed for that part to shut up. Life didn't work like that. Ancient artifacts could be found, but not in a month, not when you couldn't leave Hogwarts and were still in your first year.
Professor Quirrell took in a deep breath. Exhaled. "I'm sorry... that came out... too dramatic. Do not... get your hopes up... Mr. Potter. You asked... for anything... no matter how unlikely. There is... a certain object... called..."
A snake lay on the bed.
"The Philossopher'ss Sstone," hissed the snake.
If there'd been a mass-manufacturable means of safe immortality this entire time and nobody had bothered, Harry was going to snap and kill everyone.
Hooooo boy. Harry read it in a book, concluded it was an obvious myth and shouldn't all sane people be coming up with one if that's true. "Quirrell" says that absurdity hides the true secret. (Also, there's a word for absurdity in Parseltongue?!) Anyway, "Quirrell" says the stone is a powerful healing device, and Dumbledore hasn't spoken of it? Nope. Don't ask him, though, he won't take it well. Too many have gone after that thing, so you can't try it--I forbid it.
Yeah, good luck with forbidding that. Might as well have stuck a Vegas neon sign over it now, bro.
Before "Quirrell" rests again (and uh, goes to the forest with Harry's present), he needs Harry to sustain the Transfiguration. He does that.
Harry leaves, invisibly, knowing that after "Quirrell" doses up, he'll be better for a much shorter time. Harry keeps blaming himself--
"As if having things be his fault were the only way that his brain knew how to grieve."
Harry goes on to think about how there's a second level to the Killing Curse.
"Harry's brain had solved the riddle instantly, in the moment of first hearing it; as though the knowledge had always been inside him, waiting to make itself known.
Harry had read once, somewhere, that the opposite of happiness wasn't sadness, but boredom; and the author had gone on to say that to find happiness in life you asked yourself not what would make you happy, but what would excite you. And by the same reasoning, hatred wasn't the true opposite of love. Even hatred was a kind of respect that you could give to someone's existence. If you cared about someone enough to prefer their dying to their living, it meant you were thinking about them.
What is deadlier than hate, and flows without limit?
"Indifference," Harry whispered aloud, the secret of a spell he would never be able to cast; and kept striding toward the library to read anything he could find, anything at all, about the Philosopher's Stone.
Hoooo boy. Yeah, that's not gonna work for you right now. You're not nearly numb enough, Harry, I speak from truth. But wait awhile until you're exhausted from grieving, and you'll have it.
Well, this chapter's still pretty good, though I can't say it blew me away. (I guess I expected more of a cliffhanger since from what I recall, this is where the story left off for yonks on end.) Three and a half stars?
And now to wait while Harry finds that damn stone.
This is the manual that everyone recommends for improv students--and yes, it's the actual manual used at UCB theater schools, written by 3/4 of the founders (see this review as to why I'm guessing the fourth wasn't wanting to do it). It's a pretty technical work, low on fluff and slow toe-dipping, and gets straight to the point. With a few kooky fun illustrations in there, and some examples of funny scenes and how improvisers think. The latter especially was super helpful.
The first section is on base reality--how to set up the world the improvising performers are in, and what keeps the scene grounded so that "the unusual person" can twist things and make them stand out. It talks about agreeing, and how "yes and"-ing works so that nobody screws up the scene by denying the reality that's being shaped. It discusses how to create and use imaginary objects as well.
The second section (the heart of the book and the longest section) is about "game"--how to find the unusual premise in this scene, how to play it, and how to think of more ways to extend and heighten the premise. A lot of various games and practice ideas are listed for readers in groups to try out. It talks about the concept of "the top of your intelligence" and what it means--i.e. react in the way that a normal person would in this wacky situation. I really enjoyed the section about thinking about what's funny in a particular sketch--say, "The Cheese Shop" and "The Parrot Sketch" from Monty Python. It talks about ways to figure out an unusual premise in the moment, especially even if you haven't thought of something super good right off the bat. The examples of scenes in the book are very good ones and were probably great fun to perform (one assumes). There's some primers on how to tell a monologue and how to pick the right sort of thing and not make up something out of the blue. My favorite exercise was the one about watching skits and identifying The Game in them, and then possibly writing another sketch with the same Game premise.
I also liked how the authors classified the types of ideas you get from hearing a monologue: premises, half ideas, and chaff. Premises give you the fullest idea, half ideas have some potential, and chaff is just along the lines of one word suggestions-- a bare minimum. Do your best working with what you've got, I suppose! There's also discussion on heightening, i.e. "if this unusual thing is true, then what else is true?" and building from there, and coming up with an inner logic to explain why your character is doing this. They also talk about how to be and handle walk-ons and other players supporting the ones in the front, and how to edit--though I wish they'd talked a bit more about the dilemma of "this isn't going anywhere, how long before I put it out of its misery or give it another chance?"
Another super useful area was talking about how to think as an improvisor--the concept of going from A (a given suggestion) to C (a suggestion kind of related to A, but not in a super obvious way). There are plenty of useful examples as to how this process works, in a semi-random fashion. For example, if you mention the word "rainbow" and can only think of the names of colors--there's no new ideas to that, they're obvious moves, and they don't tell us anything we don't already know about "rainbow." So the book suggests things like leprechaun, wish, curse... you get the idea. They also go into techniques you can use in scenes such as a time dash (skip ahead!) or doing the same Game premise but with one or more different characters and a different scenario. I'd certainly love to watch scenes about boxers with crushes on each other or a cop with a crush on a criminal they're trying to arrest....
The final section talks about different longform improv structures, starting out with how to get audience suggestion, opening acts, and the construction of The Harold, which is pretty much the basis of everything. A few other longforms are covered in the book, such as "The Movie," but there's not a lot on that. I think my favorite (even though it's covered in section 2) was the Invocation, created by Wiccan Del Close, which is both a super cool idea and a great way to brainstorm stuff on stage. Discussing how one would worship a cell phone on stage got a lot of ideas flowing and was a real hoot, to boot. There's even an invocation of Del Close, created by the man himself.
It's a very impressive book, and gets a four star review from me. And a fair amount of highlighting and bookmarking, for that matter.
This is a short but cool little book about how to do group brainstorming for performance pieces. I found it very inspiring and wished I actually had a group of this ilk to brainstorm a show with. It talks about various wacky ways to generate brainstorms without the traditional "brainstorming" (which inhibits some folks) and how to deal with group dynamics. There's a lot of game suggestions in there that I couldn't do alone (bummer), but I liked how this book talked about just trying stuff out whether you fail or not, and taking that in stride. There's interviews with various theater people, talking about how they put together shows. I liked some of the theater exercise ideas, such as just making up a "harangue" onstage, saying whatever comes to mind. Sounds like fun to me! The book also talks about organization of your work and how to shape pieces, even having cute little diagrams of such. There's also a section on getting unstuck, with methods ranging from "think of something else" to "just try weird shit."
I especially thought the Group Dynamics chapter was dead on about ways we get power in groups: articulateness, a track record, emotionality, charisma, knowledge, action, elections, promotions, appointments, and the ability to reward or punish. "Power is defined as getting your way over other people," says Dr. Terry Kupers, a group therapist who consulted with a theater. Some people can make themselves sound "right" (whether they are or not) if they talk well enough, and others just drown you out, and some just use emotional blackmail. Though I'll admit that the group games dealing with power creeped me right out/would seriously send someone to therapy in some cases. I recognized myself as a "placater" --Please forgive me. I am such a clumsy oaf." He agrees with others. His position is "I am helpless. I am worthless." He ingratiates, apologizes, and pleases to get his way." Which is depressing to read, but totally true as to how I need to manage at my job. The other examples given were pretty spookily accurate, such as a person who resembles a computer and the distracter who diverts attention from their actions. Most of us probably aren't levelers who can give honest responses in life
It made me wish I had a group like this to work with, big time. As a solo person this book might not be super useful to you (except for fun information and the how to get unstuck bits), but otherwise I was pretty impressed. Four stars.
Jennifer Chaise (great name for her starting occupation) grew up poor and taking care of her bipolar mother. At age nineteen someone encouraged her to date the rich gentleman old enough to be her grandfather, which led to her embarking on a career as a professional mistress. Which she's fine with--she enjoys the perks, behaves perfectly, does a lot of physical upkeep and always keeps her own money stash. It's all going relatively well with her married boyfriend of two years, Nick Noble. Yeah, he's got a temper, but mostly he takes that out on his current wife, Barbara. Jennifer knows how to behave, like staying oblivious to whatever he's doing for work. And hey, the money makes up for it.
Then the two of them go away to Las Vegas and the wife shows up. Jennifer sees the fight and tactfully hides out in the nearest bar for 2.5 hours, but when she returns...she sees Barbara face down on the bed, Nick's covered in blood, and when his bodyguard tells him that Jennifer briefly saw the altercation, he yells "Shit. Find her. We're gonna have to do something about her, too." Jennifer is no dumb bunny and runs for it--eventually settling down in the small nearby burg of Boulder City because she reasonably expects she'd get caught if she left the state and there's no way Nick would expect her to crash there. After a terrible attempt at re-dyeing her hair, she ends up shaving it bald and getting mannish clothes and trying to pass as some kind of weird punk girl. She gets a waitress job at the local diner because the owner, Buzz, is the sort who takes care of the people around him. (And presumably he never asks for ID.) She says her name is Doris and then is all, "Crap, why did I say that, now I'm stuck with it!" Hah. Though her ex's henchmen do try to blanket the town with her photo (turns out he's told the cops she stole from him), she doesn't get recognized as far as she can tell. And oddly enough, no matter how many searches she does, she never does find that anyone's been missing Mrs. Noble.
Anyway, Jennifer/Doris ends up liking Boulder City. Everyone there is super nice and basically adopts her even though she's super funny looking and has nobody and might even be a little suspicious--though she does let on to a few people that she is running from a boyfriend that went bad. Heck, she even gets a library card without anyone demanding that she have ID. She also makes friends with a retired professor and her dog, and the professor lets her house sit for the dog for months while she flies to England. Louise the professor also wants to know what's up with "Doris," which she lets out in dribs and drabs. Jennifer also makes friends with Hedda, a teenage girl whose rocky family situation reminds Jennifer of her own growing up all too well. She realizes that while there were plusses about her rich lifestyle, she's really been enjoying catching up on her reading and making friends--something she's never really been able to do much of in her peripatetic life.
And then there's Alex, the cop next door. Who's a perfectly nice dude and figures out who Jennifer is from those fliers, but politely doesn't tell her. He does some searches on his own and reasonably concludes that the girl with a clean record being reported by a guy who keeps getting investigated might have a reason to flee, and he'll wait until she's ready to spill. Which she eventually does because well, she'd like to stay here and at some point in time she's gonna have to clear this mess up. Especially after she becomes romantically involved with Alex. And it's all just very sweet and nice for the most part. There's one out-of-nowhere moment where the inevitable "whore" is dropped out of Alex, which annoyed me and seemed totally out of character for the dude--but it's at least over with VERY quickly. I seriously wondered if an editor made the author put that in or something.
As for the ending...well, I give the author credit for throwing in some definite surprises at the end of the story. I'll mention it below the spoiler space, but let's just say that a few things that we think are true while reading the book turn out not to be. It definitely made the ending very lively, and I kinda have to give the author credit for some twists I wasn't expecting in this one.
Overall, I'm giving it four stars. My mom is crazy about Robyn Carr and collects all of her books, but this is the first one I thought sounded like it had an interesting plot on the back, and it did!
Improv Week(s?) continue....While looking around at other reviews of the book, I found this one:
"However, it’s the type of title the publishing business sometimes refers to as a “non-book”, meaning that it has few of the qualities bookish people like to think of as exemplifying the form. It’s not a coherent, well-knit piece of writing organised around a central narrative or argument. It cannot stand on its own. It’s hard to imagine anyone making sense of parts of it, let alone wanting to read the whole thing, if they aren’t already familiar with Poehler’s work in film, TV and improv comedy. Whatever you call Yes Please it’s meant for those people who, upon hearing Poehler’s name, exclaim, “Oh, I love her!”
Well, yes. I won't really argue with this. But does that make it a bad thing? So it's not straight autobiography or arguing a political point, that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining, or doesn't have deep thoughts here and there.
The book starts out with Amy essentially grumbling about how writing (well, writing nonfiction--she says she can write scripts in her sleep) is super hard, okay? For those wondering why Amy is the only non-Upright Citizens Brigade member who didn't contribute to the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual (review forthcoming), I'm pretty sure all of the grumbling in this book is why she probably said "HELL NO" to contributing to the manual.
Anyway, let's let Amy tell you what this book is:"This book is a missive from the middle. It's a street-level view of my life so far.... Yes Please is an attempt to present an open scrapbook that includes a sense of what I am thinking and feeling right now." (And also, it's a cash grab!) There are some memoir-ish chapters, scattered out of order, mixed in with somewhat silly advice and some straight up comedy bits. While she doesn't get into great detail about her love life (she was getting divorced/moving on with someone else during the writing), there's references and chapters talking about friends and family, and a few guest chapters and notes from others. There's a chapter in which she tells the story of how she really pissed off someone by doing an SNL skit she didn't know the background information on and eventually got up the nerve to apologize for it. There's a chapter dedicated to the fun games she's set up with other nominees during awards shows to distract herself from losing.
I definitely enjoyed the chapters talking about how she got into theater and improv and eventually became a cofounder of UCB. And I enjoyed how she talks about having body/looks issues like everyone else and how improv helped her find her way because she could choose who she wanted to be--"I didn't audition to be the sexy girl, I just played her. I got to cast myself." Good point, it's part of the appeal to me too. She says she learned that she could decide who she was and all she had to do was surround herself with people who respected and supported that choice. She found a tribe and helped build a home for them to live in (in two cities).
And the advice-ish bits are great, especially if you're a feminist. I particularly must mention the "treat your career like a bad boyfriend" section, saying that it won't make you whole and that it's essentially stringing together opportunities and jobs. You need to care about your work, but not the result or impressing other people. Ambivalence is the key--your career likes it when you don't depend on it, and will reward you when you don't act needy. You need to put other things and people as being more important.
Honestly, I'm giving it four stars. I really enjoyed reading it and it was inspiring and sweet and funny to me. I wish she'd write another book, but hoo boy, do I not think that's ever going to happen again!
I'll finish out with a Quote Corner:
"It's called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please."
"It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate."
"My twenty years with the Upright Citizens Brigade could fill a book. Hopefully someone else will write it, because writing a book is awful and because most of my memories are drug filled and rose colored."
"People help you time travel. People work around you and next to you and the universe waits for the perfect time to whisper in your ear, "Look this way." There is someone in your life right now who may end up being your enemy, your wife, or your boss. Lift up your head and you may notice."
This wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the title of this book--it's a short history of improv theaters and rundowns of what they do--but it was very good at what it does. (Note: it was published in 2002) It starts out talking about Viola Spolin's "Improvisation for the Theater" (which I still can't get at the library, sigh), Commedia Dell'Arte in Italy in the 1500's, vaudeville, and the world's first improvisational theater, The Compass in the 1930's. Most of the book moves on to focusing on the last fifty years in Chicago theater, focusing on Charna Halpern and Del Close. (I'll be reading "Something Wonderful Right Away", which has quotes from him about how he learned.) It talks a lot about how the Harold was developed at Improv Olympic, and the creation of The Annoyance Theater and other groups such as the Free Associates and The Playground. I did like how this book would talk about specific cool shows that folks did, such as a show on Halloween night where people had costumes but wouldn't play any roles associated with them, and a parody improv show of ER called BS. (Sounds great!)
There's a chapter called "Building On The Harold" that talks about the variations on long form improv that people have come up with. and one on Sanford Meisner and his beliefs and techniques. I liked this quote from Jim Jarvis: "People go into improv wanting to be funny. Deep down inside, improv is about being vulnerable and not having to be funny. This is what you need to do to be a good actor. You need to be vulnerable on stage."
Here's another fun quote from Kevin Mullaney on the rules at Center Theater: "You could intimidate them, you could say whatever you wanted, but you couldn't actually harm them and you couldn't have intercourse and you couldn't--I think the third one was you couldn't defecate. There may have been a legitimate reason to pee on stage but there's no legitimate reason to actually defecate on stage."
OMFG WHY WOULD YOU PEE ON STAGE FOR REAL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DUDES.
Anyhoo, the book goes on to talk about other version s of long form improv, such as improvised two-act shows based on the Hero's Journey and musical improv. Since I saw a musical improv for the first time last month, I was totally thrilled to read about how they do it. Nancy Howland Walker had some insight on this, like saying that you need to set up the rhyme so that you always think of the last word first and still think while supposedly "not thinking," improv style. She teaches them to put a melody line in there to make it sound like a real song as well. And the final chapters talk about how improv schooling works in Chicago.
Overall, there's some pretty good information in there. Not quite what I expected from the title, but it's a good primer for its time period. Three and a half stars.
"bringing down a small circle of trees hadn't made him feel any better, all the emotions were still there but while he was destroying trees he at least wasn't thinking about how the feelings couldn't be let out."
Ouch. And then he started smashing them with his hands when he ran out of magic. How the heck does one run out of magic around here?! But eh, who cares, Madam Pomfrey fixes everything except Dark magic. I still feel sorry for the poor trees, though. You're lucky this isn't Narnia. Why don't you beat up on some mean magical creature or something?
Harry is interrupted by a centaur. (Dunno if it's the usual one from the books or not, no name is given.) It's not what it looks like! Well, the stars proclaim Harry's innocence, he says. The two debate innocence and planets, more or less.
"I read once," Harry said, his voice a bit unsteady as he tried to match deep-sounding words to deep-sounding words, "that it's wrong to think of little children as innocent, because not knowing isn't the same as not choosing. That children do little harms to each other with schoolyard fights, because they don't have the power to do great harm. And some adults do great harm. But the adults who don't, aren't they more innocent than children, not less?"
Harry tried to read up on centaur divination, but the authors he was reading kind of ragged on it. Anyway, the centaur mentions that "soon the skies will be empty," and that the other centaurs are avoiding him because they will lose their innocence if they get entangled in Harry's fate. Uh-oh.
"I... don't understand."
"No. You are innocent, as the stars say. And to slay something innocent to save oneself, that is a terrible deed. One would live only a cursed life, a half-life, from that day. For any centaur would surely be cast out, if he slew a foal."
Then the centaur starts smashing Harry's wand out of his hand, and pounding him in the guts and knocking his tools away. The centaur apologizes and then--well, he gets zapped by light and stops moving. "Quirrell" to the rescue here.
"Well," the man in the black cloak said thoughtfully, "you needed to fly into a rage and have a loud tantrum in the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night, and I needed to go just outside your ability to detect me and keep watch. One does not leave a student alone in the Forbidden Forest. That should be obvious in retrospect."
And he killed the centaur, too.
"I do not always understand how other people imagine morality to work, Mr. Potter. But even I know that on conventional morality, it is acceptable to kill nonhuman creatures which are about to slay a wizard child. Perhaps you do not care about the nonhuman part, but he was about to kill you. He was hardly innocent -"
Uh-oh, bad word to use there. But you should know how "Quirrell" operates by now. But surprisingly, he then brings the centaur back to life (?!?!) and wipes his memory of the event. Hey, wait, what? Happy now? I guess he just gave him a magical tasing, then?
"Oh, for Merlin's sake - yes, he was trying to kill you. Get used to it. Only boring people never have that experience."
Why did he want to? Eh, any number of reasons.
"I would be lying if I said I'd never considered killing you myself."
Well, that's comforting coming from your evil mentor? Sorta evil? Whatever? Who the hell knows.
Cut to: After the drama in the woods, Dumbledore's returned, and he's waking up the bigwigs. Let's sum up all the drama with this quote:
There had been Aurors testifying, and discussions going in circles, and glares of accusation, and cutting remarks at 2AM in the morning. There had been motions, and votes, and consequences.
Whee! Dumbledore asks Harry if he thinks "the Hogwarts you have wrought" is an improvement. Yes, Harry says, "after too long a hesitation." He thinks it's normal.
"This is how things should be, when four children get sent into the Forbidden Forest at night. There should be a huge fuss, constables showing up, and the responsible party getting sacked."
"You believe it is good," Dumbledore said quietly, "that the man who you call responsible was, as you put it, sacked."
"Yes, in fact, I do."
"Argus Filch has served this institution for decades."
"And when given Veritaserum," Harry said tiredly, "Argus Filch revealed that he had sent an eleven-year-old boy into the Forbidden Forest, hoping something awful would happen to him, because he thought the boy's father had been responsible for the death of his cat. The three other students in Draco's company don't seem to have fazed him. I would have argued for jail time, but your concept of jail in this country is Azkaban. I'll also note that Filch was remarkably unpleasant to the children in Hogwarts and I expect the school's hedonic index to be improved by his departure, not that it matters to you, I suppose."
*cheers* I love these moments of rationality in the world of Hogwarts, pointing out that it's kind of nutterpants even on a good day. No, seriously, a dude should be sacked if he is trying to throw kids out in the woods to be killed. Seriously, Hogwarts!
The Headmaster's eyes were impenetrable behind the half-moon glasses. "Argus Filch is a Squib. His work at Hogwarts is all he has. Had, rather."
"The purpose of a school is not to provide work for its employees."
Also, he could have found some other job. Gravedigger, perhaps. Dumbledore is all butthurt that Harry doesn't care that he hurt Filch. Harry says he cares about the innocent (that word again), and he's fine with Hagrid as long as he doesn't keep taking kids into the forest, because the dude is oblivious, not mean. Dumbledore complains that you can't teach Care of Magical Creatures (in Hagrid's future after the current teacher retires to spend more time with his remaining limbs) without going into the forest, so now he can't have that job. You mean, mean Harry!
"But - you told us that Mr. Hagrid has a blind spot when it comes to magical creatures threatening wizards. That Mr. Hagrid had a cognitive deficit and couldn't really imagine Draco and Tracey getting hurt, which was why Mr. Hagrid didn't see anything wrong with leaving them alone in the Forbidden Forest at night. Was that not true?"
"It is true."
"Then wouldn't Mr. Hagrid be the worst possible teacher for Magical Creatures?"
DUUUUUUUUUUUH. (Except if a school doesn't care so much if the kids bite it occasionally.) God, seriously, I can't stand this Dumbledore. Anyway, he basically thinks it would have all been fine and dandy and he's making crying voice. Also, Lucius said it was fine! It wasn't THAT mean to send kids into the forest to die! SERIOUSLY?!? Also, your big enemy these days thought it was fine? Isn't that a hint of a bad idea, there? Gawd, Dumblemoron.
"You're thinking about how happy Mr. Hagrid would be when he heard the news. Consider the next ten years and a thousand students taking Magical Creatures and ten percent of them being scalded by Ashwinders. No one student would be hurt as much as Mr. Hagrid would be happy, but there'd be a hundred students being hurt and only one happy teacher."
GOOD POINT. Dumbledore continues to complain that Harry doesn't care about anyone else's pain. I dunno, I think this is reasonable. Harry then asks what does it mean if a centaur doesn't like him. (That the centaur is sensible?)
What does it mean when a member of a race of magical creatures known for Divination gives you a lecture on people who are ignorant of consequences, apologizes, and then tries to stab you with a spear?
Hah, yeah. Dumbledore says centaurs don't like wizards and Harry is all, it was a bit more specific than that, but won't say what.
"Ah." The Headmaster hesitated. "Centaurs have been wrong many times, and if there is anyone in the world who could confuse the stars themselves, it is you."
Harry looked up, and saw the blue eyes once more gentle behind the half-circle glasses.
"Do not fret too much about it," said Albus Dumbledore.
If Dumbledore tells you it's fine? I THINK YOU SHOULD PROBABLY FRET ABOUT IT.
Three stars for Dumbledore annoying me again. Also, dumbass! Seriously, these people should not be teaching if they can't handle it, etc. It's not like Hagrid's not nice, but someone's gotta tell him what's not okay at times. No wonder he's not in this fanfic much.
Filch is taking Draco and Tracey onto the grounds late at night--he just caught them trying to have a Silvery Slytherins meeting after curfew and they're getting detention. They don't know what's going on. Filch grumbles about the school letting the old punishments die out, like hanging people from the ceiling, he keeps the chains nice and oiled....
"Hey!" Tracey said, a touch of indignation entering her voice. "I'm too young to hear about that - that sort of - you know! Especially if the chains are well-oiled!"
Yay for pervy references, boo because I'm grossed out.
Draco wasn't paying attention. Filch simply wasn't in Amycus Carrow's league.
Not asking.Two other caught kids are being dragged along.
"We'll see what you say about that... when you learn what you'll be doing tonight! Ha!"
"I said, I'm too young for that sort of thing!" said Tracey Davis. "It has to wait until I'm older!"
Bwahahahahahahah. Oh god, Tracey, you are a freaky girl. Anyway, looks like they've been brought out to Hagrid's to go look for "whatever's been eating 'em." (the unicorns) Hagrid is all, I was thinking you could get some seventh-years, not these kids that I have to babysit, but Filch doesn't give a shit. Fine, whatever, Hagrid's gonna go along with that. Draco's totally loving using his detective skills, apparently. Who are these two other kids? Cornelia Walt and Yuri Yuliy (an exchange student for the year from Durmstrang, apparently?). They head off into the woods with Fang, debating what could be killing unicorns. Werewolves? Wrong time of moon. Maybe it's a hydra or something.
They find another dead unicorn. It's awful. The party splits up to go searching. Hagrid is taking Tracey and Draco, the newbies are going with Fang so I guess we don't care what they get up to. He's heard plenty of rumors about them. "Well, they're all true. All of them," Tracey says helpfully. God, Tracey. Hagrid verifies that Draco did try to help Hermione. He's surprised. As for Tracey, are you sure the Sorting Hat put you in the right place, because all the bad ones come from Slytherin. (Hah.) Tracey can cite a few who prove that rule wrong, though--thanks to Hermione telling her to read up on things. Hagrid is kind of surprised, but then they're interrupted. He charges after whatever it is. Draco calls up an Auror to put him on ten-minute check in and to come get him if he doesn't respond.
Something horse-y starts screaming, and Tracey runs. Draco goes after her. They find another dead unicorn, and something drinking out of it...and it's looking at them. Both kids are unable to cast spells, apparently. It gets up, and Tracey ends up falling down after it hisses at her.
At this point, Aurors and Harry and McGonagall charge in and...oh crap, everyone's magic fails and they fall off their brooms. Except for Harry, who's somehow fine (?!?!?) and barging in as a human shield for Draco. Harry tells him to go and he goes. Draco runs into something, hits his head, and blacks out.
Harry says, "What on Earth are you doing." And it's... well, Harry recognized the doom. It's "Quirrell," covered in unicorn blood and calling this a fiasco.
"I take it," Harry said, managing to keep his voice steady, "that your eating unicorns has something to do with why you'll get fired from the Defense Professor position. I don't suppose you'd care to explain in considerable detail?"
Sure, he'll explain, just let him cast a few Memory Charms first. A future version of Harry tells him it's okay, essentially. (Huh? Check this later) They leave. "Quirrell" asks how Harry got here so fast and knew Draco was in trouble. Well, the Auror did some checking, but Harry declines to answer that. Then what about the unicorns? Well, I was just drinking their blood and trying to frame it on something else. It preserves your life for a time.
Harry blue screens of death in his head. "Quirrell" is pretty much at last resort here trying to last out his lesson plans.
"Why isn't unicorn's blood standard in healer's kits, then? To keep someone alive, even if they're on the very verge of dying from their legs being eaten?"
"Because there are permanent side effects," Professor Quirrell said quietly.
"Side effects? Side effects? What kind of side effect is medically worse than DEATH? " Harry's voice rose on the last word until he was shouting.
"Not everyone thinks the same way we do, Mr. Potter. Though, to be fair, the blood must come from a live unicorn and the unicorn must die in the drinking. Would I be here otherwise?"
Harry needs to vent his rage and starts casting a charm on the trees to cut them. That's not nice to trees, Harry. "Quirrell" leaves him to it.
Well, I'm giving this one three and a half stars for a bit of shock value, at least. Though I dock a star for never explaining the permanent side effects, other than feeling like an asshole for killing a unicorn.
This is a wee little book, which is mostly about "breaking the rules of improv." Which is to say that the author thinks that sticking to "the rules" of improv can cause bad improvisation and make you think in a rigid way. It's the sort of book that starts out saying: "Part One: Do Something! For God's sake, do something. Anything. Something." What do you do? Who cares, just do something. Figure out something, take a stand, go from there. When it comes to scene partners, he advises that you take care of yourself in a scene first as a way of supporting the other person. He discusses the common problems of say, too much talking/exposition, and how to handle multiple person scenes. He talks about being specific and changing things up, and covers gender dynamics a bit, in a way that I thought was pretty positive. To men, he says to stop being negative all the time and putting down others out of fear. To women, he encourages them to be a strong woman instead of a crazy lady, and thinks the "women aren't as funny as men" argument is bull. He gives audition guidelines and even talks about the second law of thermodynamics and energy use in improv.
Possibly the best part of the book--and what sold it to me--is that the author came up with exercises to do at home alone when not doing improv with others. This is exactly what I was looking for--ways to get myself thinking in an improv style and not blanking out. Speak gibberish, work on word association, playing different characters in succession, switching genres, writing scenes, reading plays aloud, and practicing with space objects are suggested, along with other things. I thought this was great and not something that I've seen covered in other books so far.
Overall, I'm giving it three and a half stars. It's a really short read, but pretty potent for what you get.
I'm going to do a short series on improv books for a bit, since I am taking a class in the subject and my reading materials are biased in that direction right now. Anyway, this one is a nonfiction book, covering the history of improv in Chicago and the various theaters/schools/philosophies up until around the book's publication in 2001. It chronicles the development of "The Harold" improv technique, the big names in improv and how they functioned as leaders, how theaters kept afloat and formed teams, and what kinds of shows they put on.
It also focuses on the struggles of women and minorities who got involved in improv and the struggles they've had going against sexist behaviors. I don't just mean how women are socialized to not jump in quickly so much as how "yes, and" may lead to a woman only being able to play "the girlfriend." The author refers to a situation in which she was yelled at "Wife! On your knees!" during a scene, which made her incredibly uncomfortable but she felt like she had to go with it due to the "rules" of improv. Later, she ponders how other players would have done in the same situation and what they would have done to get out of it.
While there's a few notable women running improv theaters, in general it sounds like women have had to fit into "the pretty one" or "the funny one" slots, and how there's only "one or maybe two" slots for women and/or minorities in any theater group. As for Comedy Sportz....well, that sounds like such a jockish culture that I'm glad I didn't end up taking classes there. Hoo boy. As time goes on, the author does feature groups of minority players and women players and how they may or may not end up getting more play on stage. It kind of made me wish the author would update this book, because I'd be interested in hearing more about say, how UCB has swept the nation and the TV shows going on these days.
Anyway, I'd probably give it about three and a half stars--it's a good book to read, but I kind of have to admit it suffers a bit when you read it in 2015. Should I be judging it on that? Probably not, but I somehow can't quite give it four stars either. If you're into the subject matter, you'll be into it and it's a good chronicle of improv theater history.
I think "Nina Won't Tell" and "Ben's In Love" were my very favorites, both now and in the original series. I'll review the books separately...sorta, anyway. I'm gonna issue a trigger warning before I begin in that both books deal with the concept of sexual assault, on both genders. Just so you're warned.
Nina Won't Tell: When Nina was 11 years old, her mother died. Nina was closer to her mother than anyone else, so her father sent her away to live with his sister and her husband over the summer. I'm not sure on the logic of this particular act, but it turned out to be a whoppingly bad idea because Uncle Mark turned out to be a child molester who told Nina that nobody would believe her if she told. Now that she's sixteen, she still hasn't told anyone, but secretly has her issues. Like nearly barfing the one time anyone tried to kiss her, and generally feeling squeamish, and having four recurring dreams of varying creepiness/weirdness that keep coming back--which she talks about in this one. Nina quietly, secretly freaks the hell out when she finds out that Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Mark are coming to visit, so she starts counting the steps between the guest bedroom and her own, making sure she's got a lock on her door, sleeping with a knife, etc.
Her jumpiness is noticeable enough for Zoey to finally ask what's going on--and for Zoey to tell Benjamin after he hears Nina coming over in the middle of the night. Both Passmores accompany Nina to the family barbeque to back her up--and Nina finds that she has to tell. It's a very cheering scene in the end, as even Nina's own generally chilly nuclear family are immediately on her side. Awwww. And after that, Nina finally gets up the courage to ask Benjamin to Homecoming--on a real date this time, thanks, not like the time where he seemed to think she was his chauffeur. But more on that later.
In other island news, Jake is in a very unhappy place after finding out what Claire did, and he's pretty much abusing every substance that's within his vicinity. As he sinks, Claire does her best to help him via cheating/supplying him with answers in class--and even chase him romantically in a way, which shocks the heck out of the girls. (Claire, having to chase a guy?!) Aisha thinks it'll be romantic to nominate Zoey and Lucas for homecoming king and queen (Jake is also nominated), but it only serves to freak Lucas the hell out. He actually campaigns to NOT vote for him--and yet he wins anyway, with "school slut" Louise Kronenberger. As for Aisha's love life, she and Christopher become very steamy very fast...but then she spots him with a hot blonde girl. And no, it's not innocent, as we're shown that Christopher brags about getting the blonde's digits to Lucas later. (For the record, Lucas is pretty much all "bad idea, dude, and does Aisha know you think this is an open relationship?") Uh-oh....
Anyway, I love this one and it gets four stars. It's funny and touching and angering and even a bit romantic in places.
"I'm the kind of person who should be homecoming barbarian." --Lucas
"I vow total destruction on everyone from Camden! Kill the Camdenites! Slaughter them like pigs! They are the epitome of evil and must be wiped from the face of the earth! Forget football; we'll bomb the bastards! We'll make slaves of their children and whores of their women! Their men will be turned into beasts of burden!....I'm just trying to get into the whole fascist-barbarian-fundamentalist school-spirit thing." --Nina
"Yes, I'm the happy blind guy. I always figure, hell, if people are going to feel sorry for you, you have to surprise them. They think they know what you are and how you must feel. So I always try to keep them guessing. Do the thing no one expects you to do--like make fun of the way you can't eat very gracefully, or make people think you've somehow found a way to turn things to your advantage. There are guys who still think somehow, they don't know how, but somehow I got a look at all the cheerleaders naked." --Benjamin.
Ben's In Love: Is Ben in love, as the title says? It's debatable. Ever since the revelations of the last book, Ben is thinking of categories. He's always categorized Nina in the "like a sister" category in life and he's trying to mentally adjust to her being in the "dateable girl" category in his head as they lead up to their date. Plus there's his residual feelings for her sister, ouch. This is especially odd for a guy whose visual records of these girls is frozen in the preteen years (something Nina dwells on as well). Is Nina just wanting to date him because he's harmless and has to be guided in for a landing? He kinda thinks so, but Claire tells him differently. Nina is trying to psych herself up for the date (and figure out what smell to wear--Benjamin prefers vanilla) and the public reactions they're gonna get. And of course Claire has some residual feelings towards this situation, even as she's still quietly pursuing/cleaning up Jake, and she's considering how to "best" handle this situation of trying to be with a guy who's too messed up in so many ways.
Lucas suffers through being homecoming king, as Zoey steams over "Easy Louisie" coming on to him (and meanwhile, Zoey's still not ready to have sex and this is becoming a painful topic on both sides.). Also, poor Lucas is the guy who everyone tells their secrets to in this book, which he HATES. Jake continues to go down the toilet, finally taking some cocaine halfway through the homecoming football game and suddenly becoming a speed talker--enough for him to get noticed and suspended from the team. As he continues to get bombed in a different way after the show...well, I have to say it: he gets straight up raped by Louise, who hops on board while Jake is so wasted he thinks he's boning Claire. And Louise even brags about that little detail to Lucas later, and Lucas is basically all, "Why is everyone telling me these things?!?!" Holy crap, I was shocked the authors went there. I'm not even sure what to make of that, or if Jake is even at all aware of what happened in the end. Yikes.
Christopher has been caught double dipping and Aisha (and the blonde girl)'s mad, so she's giving him the cold shoulder. Christopher maintains that while he lives a life of hardship--and at one point we're told his schedule in here and it is ridiculously hard and he's probably not getting more than five hours of sleep in the entire day and no more than three of them in one go--he's going to get some happy where he can get it. Sure, he may really super like Aisha, but does that mean automatic exclusivity? But that argument goes by the wayside for now after some skinheads Lucas was in juvie with get out and see Christopher talking to Zoey in public and beat the crap out of him. For now, Aisha and Zoey do his paper route together and debate the shittiness of racial baggage and how it affects them even on a tiny island, and Lucas freaks out because Christopher tells him he wants a gun. Lucas technically can figure out who did the beating, but doesn't want to get in more trouble.
As for homecoming....well, it goes well for some folks. Especially our title character as he finds that folks can change categories after all. And no hurling happens! Four stars.
*I love your hair, by the way." "Thanks, but I'm thinking of cutting it. It attracts all the wrong kinds of guys." --Aisha and Angela the blonde. (For a girl who's barely in the series, she's a memorable cameo.)
"Believe me, Benjamin, you are very easy to fall in love with." --Claire.
"I told her that underneath your abrasive and occasionally weird exterior there was an abrasive and occasionally weird interior, so she shouldn't be fooled by your nice guy act." --Zoey
"I always figured homecoming would be you and me. Prom the same thing. You and me, Zoey. You and me and I'd gain a hundred yards or more and be the big hero. It's okay, though. Things change. Onward and upward, right?" --Jake
Not Quite Quote Corner:
I'm not gonna quote it all, but there's a scene in which Nina is taking notes on television for her Media Studies class and she's observing things like "pee is blue."
There's also the scene where the homecoming king and queen are announced, even though the school has quietly leaked this information out ahead of time so that students will know not to get wasted ahead of time. Which really doesn't work. Nina narrates the homecoming ceremony, and later she and everyone else start yelling out the winners ahead of them, followed by "But we're just guessing."
And the journal entry in which Nina recounts how as a kid she tried to figure out how Benjamin "saw" her by recording her talking and sniffing her various hygiene products, and then told Benjamin the story and he laughed "till I thought he was going to collapse a lung" and told her it was the funniest thing he'd heard in weeks and thanked her for it. "I've liked Benjamin ever since." Awwww.
Aisha and Zoey delivering papers is also a good, touching, painful scene. "That's a big difference between you and me, Zo. It's not your fault, I know you're not racist, but just the same it's hard for me not to resent it sometimes when it's like the whole damned world is ready to open up to the lovely, lily-white Ms. Zoey Passmore but just waiting for the right time to try and step on the lovely, ebony Ms. Aisha Gray."
Lucas in the locker room with the wasted homecoming candidates. "He was the one who had just been released from jail, and he was going to walk out on the field perfectly straight, flanked by one guy who was stoned and another guy who was high. "This younger generation," he said to himself. "What's the world coming to?" Also, the line about how Lucas and Louise are symbols of all that's right with Weymouth High.
Daphne's returning her stuff to her room upon coming back. Her trunk is strangely reluctant to go on. Daphne recounts the conversation her parents had and she overheard (while crying) about Hermione's death. Her mother thinks "eh, if only one kid dies a year, that's still better than the other schools." Seriously. Her dad thinks it's important for the heir to stay at Hogwarts with the other nobles and it's not always safe to be an heir anyway.
She could have done without hearing that last part.
Well, yeah. Anyway, Daphne opens her door and OH NO WHO IS THIS CLOAKED FIGURE, and what are you doing in my bedroom?! Anyway, it asks about Daphne's ability to cast a mist-Patronus and wants to see it, and Daphne thinks it's going to kill anyone in Slytherin who can cast an un-Slytherin spell, and she thinks it killed Hermione. It claims it testified under Veritaserum that it was trying to help her, and Daphne thinks that well, this person is a Malfoy. It casts Expecto Patronum and there goes a serpent. Yup, it's Draco
"I did try to help Hermione Granger," Draco Malfoy said with a level voice. "Because I know the sickness at the heart of Slytherin's House, the reason why so many of us can't cast the Patronus Charm any more, is hate. Hate of Muggleborns, or just anyone really. People think that's all Slytherin is about now, not cunning or ambition or honorable nobility. And I even know, because it's obvious if you just look, that Hermione Granger wasn't weak at magic."
Yeah, and she wasn't trying to kill him, either, and she was being set up. Daphne's brain is Blue Screen of Death'ing. But it doesn't matter, given the debt cancellation. Daphne falls over on her bed.
"I'd like you to join a conspiracy," said the figure in the shining robes. "Everyone in Slytherin who can cast the Patronus Charm, and everyone who can learn. That's how we'll know to trust each other, when the Silvery Slytherins meet." With a dramatic gesture, Draco Malfoy cast back his hood. "But it won't work without you, Daphne Greengrass. You and your family. Your mother will negotiate it with Father, but I'd like the Greengrasses to hear the proposal from you, first." Draco Malfoy's voice lowered grimly. "There is much we must speak of, before we eat dinner."
Ai yi yi. But good on ya, Draco, for taking up a charge here. Cut to--
Harry, invisible again, is handing out a list to Fred and George. He's decided that it's not the best idea to be findable except on special occasions. The boys think this is the creepiest thing they've ever heard, and this is coming from the guys who filled a lot of shoes with millipedes. But even they know Hogwarts isn't safe. He's got a special secret order to fulfill, but now he's got the bucks for it.
"I'd tell you where the Galleons came from, but I don't want to spoil tomorrow's surprise."
"What is this stuff?" said Fred or George, as they looked over the list. "Our father is a Muggle expert -"
"- and we don't recognize half this stuff -"
"- why, we don't recognize any of it -"
"- just what are you planning to do? "
Harry may need Muggle power around, and wants it in case of contingencies. He totally owes the twins, which they blow off as a NBD.
But what the Weasleys knew, and Harry wouldn't understand until he was older, was that it meant that nothing was owed, or ever could be owed between them. It was a strange kind of selfishness, they thought, that Harry could understand kindness within himself - never dreaming of asking of money from anyone he'd helped more than they'd helped him, or calling that a debt - while being apparently unable to conceive that others might want to act the same way toward him.
"Remind me to buy you a copy of the Muggle novel Atlas Shrugged," the sourceless voice said. "I'm starting to understand what sort of person can benefit from reading it."
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Oh boy. Don't do that, dude. I seriously don't think they'd read it anyway.
At dinner the next day, Draco strolls up to a table and tings a glass until everyone shuts up. Harry joins him.
"I, and my Father, the Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy," Draco Malfoy said in a clear voice, "have come to realize that there are ill forces at work in Hogwarts. That these ill forces, did wish Hermione Granger harm. That Hermione Granger was perhaps compelled, against her will, to raise her hand against our House; or perhaps she and I were both Memory-Charmed. We now say that whoever dared use the heir of Malfoy so, is the enemy of House Malfoy, upon whom we shall have our vengeance. And that honor be served, we have returned all moneys taken from House Potter, and canceled all debt."
Then Harry Potter spoke. "House Potter acknowledges that it was an honest mistake, and holds House Malfoy no ill will. We believe and publicly say that House Malfoy was not at fault in Hermione Granger's death. Whoever harmed Hermione Granger is the enemy of House Potter, upon whom we shall have our vengeance. Both of us."
Chaos ensues, despite Draco's tinging. People shift power. Daphne and Theodore and Amelia and Neville stand up, citing their adult relatives, and announce that their relatives have passed certain educational decrees upon the school.
Uh...does it work like that in British academia? Seriously?! I know it's magical and fictional, but still.
Anyway, the new decrees are: nobody travels alone, not even to the toilets, in packs of three, one of whom has to be a 6th/7th year (this seems like they'll run out of people, doesn't it? And how are going to classes going to work when they're all in different levels?) Aurors have been dispatched to the school, which Susan announces dramatically. Draco suspends the House Points System because all must come together and act as one. Everyone's going to get more self-defense training from the Aurors if they're not already getting any. The Auror Auxiliary Protective Force reports directly to Lord Greengrass, and anyone wanting to report anything should go to her as "duly appointed President of the Auxiliary Protective Special Committee!"
And Daphne paused dramatically. They'd all rehearsed this part.
"We don't know who the enemy is," said Neville, whose voice did not squeak.
"We don't know what the enemy wants," said Theodore, still looking menacing.
"But we know who the enemy is attacking," said Susan, as fierce as when she'd taken on three seventh-year students.
"The enemy is attacking Hogwarts students," said Draco Malfoy, clear and commanding, like all this was his natural element.
"And Hogwarts," spoke Daphne of Greengrass, feeling her blood burn like it never had before in her life, "is going to fight back."
FOUR STARS FOR KICKASSERY AND TEAMWORK, FOLKS. (Though I sort of want to deduct a fraction of a star for some impracticality on the team toileting and going to classes bits....)
Oh, and as for chapter 99, this is it in its entirety: "Ten days later, the first dead unicorn was found in the Forbidden Forest."
Harry starts crying, grabs Draco's snakey Patronus and drags it off to the bottom of his trunk. But what happens?! Uh...apparently the author's not going to tell us right now. WHAT? Come on, dude! We cut to--
The debtor's meeting which Lord Malfoy had demanded from Harry Potter, who owed Lucius Malfoy a debt of some 58,203 Galleons, was held within the Gringotts Central Bank, in accordance with the laws of Britain.
There had been some pushback from Chief Warlock Dumbledore, trying to prevent Harry Potter from leaving the security of Hogwarts (a phrase that caused Harry Potter to raise his fingers and silently make quote marks in the air).
For his own part, the Boy-Who-Lived had seemingly pondered quietly, and then assented to the meeting, strangely compliant in the face of his enemy's demand.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts, who acted as Harry Potter's legal guardian in the eyes of magical Britain, had overruled his ward's assent.
The Debts Committee of the Wizengamot had overruled the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
The Chief Warlock had overruled the Debts Committee.
The Wizengamot had overruled the Chief Warlock.
So that went well?
And so the Boy-Who-Lived had departed under the heavy guard of Mad-Eye Moody and an Auror trio for the Gringotts Central Bank; with Moody's bright-blue eye rotating wildly in every direction, as though to signal to any possible attacker that he was On Guard and Constantly Vigilant and would cheerfully incinerate the kidneys of anyone who sneezed in the general direction of the Boy-Who-Lived.
Good luck with that, Mr. Constant Vigiliance. Harry ponders goblin rebellions and goblins being pissed off at not being allowed to own wands, which Harry figured out on his own and not from his first year textbook. He's not sure what goblins think of the likes of him. The guards look at Harry blankly but glare at everyone else, which I guess is why Harry's wondering. He wonders if goblins would back him in overthrowing the Ministry if he promised to revoke the wand law or snuck them wands and such.
"then the goblin nation probably has its own internal horrors, its own Azkabans, for that is also human nature; in which case sooner or later I must overthrow or reform your own government as well. Hm."
Hah, this is totally reminding me of KateLocke books. I need to get the third one sometime.
As they head into the meeting, Mad-Eye grumbles at Harry not to sign anything, even his autograph, and he should break any quill and his own fingers if anyone tries.
"We also have lawyers in Muggle Britain, and they'd think your lawyers are cute."
I seriously wonder which would be worse.
Anyway, Harry has to hand over his wand and pouch and go through "a brief waterfall of Thief's Downfall," whatever that is. No magic use is allowed in the meeting. Lucius struts in without his cane (?), followed by Draco, who I deduce was sending Harry a seekrit message about this whole thing. He also counts as a creditor. Harry can't think of what to say, but it's mentioned that the Patronus helped set up a meeting.
"It had been enough to know that Draco's happy thought was still happy, and that he had still been able to want Harry to know it."
Lucius starts out by asking Harry what is going on at Hogwarts because he doesn't understand it, and Harry says he doesn't either and if he understood he would not have let it happen. Lucius asks who Harry is.
"I'm not You-Know-Who, like you thought I was," Harry said. Not being a complete idiot, he'd eventually worked out who Lucius Malfoy had thought he was talking to in front of the Wizengamot. "Obviously I'm not a normal boy. Equally obviously, that probably has something to do with the Boy-Who-Lived business. But I don't know what, or why, any more than you do. I asked the Sorting Hat and it didn't know either."
Okay, that's a reasonable answer to give under the circumstances. Lucius says he couldn't come up with any reason why one would spend the family fortune to save a mudblood except for one ("which would account for her power and bloodthirst alike"--wait, whoa, what?). Except now she's dead and Draco told him a bunch of stuff which doesn't make the tiniest bit of sense and even the ravings of the crazies in St. Mungo's makes more sense than this...EXPLAIN NOW PLZ. Draco seconds it.
"A boy raised by Muggles who thought he was clever. You saw me, Draco, and you thought of how very useful it would be if the Boy-Who-Lived, out of all the other children in your year, could be shown the truth of things, if we could be friends. And I thought the same thing about you. Only, you and I believed different things were true. Not that I'm saying that there are different truths, I mean, there's different beliefs but there's only one reality, only one universe that can make those beliefs true or false -"
"You lied to me."
Harry opened his eyes and looked at Draco. "I would prefer to say," Harry said, not quite with a steady voice, "that the things I told you were true from a certain point of view."
"A certain point of view?" Draco Malfoy looked every bit as angry as Luke Skywalker'd had the right to be, and not in a mood to accept Kenobi's excuses, either. "There's a word for things that are true from a certain point of view. They're called lies! "
Hah, yeah. Any time someone uses that argument...Harry should know better even if Draco doesn't know anything about Star Wars.
"Or tricks," Harry said evenly. "Statements which are technically true but which deceive the listener into forming further beliefs which are false. I think it's worth making that distinction. What I told you was a self-fulfilling prophecy; you believed that you couldn't deceive yourself, so you didn't try. The skills you've learned are real, and it would have been very bad for you to start fighting against them internally. People can't make themselves believe that blue is green by an act of will, but they think they can, and that can be almost as bad."
"You used me," said Draco Malfoy.
"I only used you in ways that made you stronger. That's what it means to be used by a friend."
"Even I know that's not what friendship is!"
There's a lot of defining friendships going around in this section of the book, eh? But...yeah, being used by a friend is a phrase that is never going to go well. The Malfoys want to know why, and Harry essentially says he thought that a Malfoy who saved a mudblood "would be a good compromise candidate to lead magical Britain after the reformation." I haven't seen a lick of House of Cards, but why do I have the feeling this seems relevant to that sort of thing? (House of Wands?)
Lucius grumbles that Harry is claiming to be mad, but he'll ignore it--who brought in the troll? Harry doesn't know, but he suspects Snape, "Quirrell" because you always have to suspect The Usual Suspect, you wouldn't believe me on #3, and the fourth is Everything Else. (He won't name Voldemort as #5.) Lucius wants to know who #3, Harry's "true" suspect, is.
"I once read a book I wasn't supposed to read, and it told me this: Communication is an event that takes place between equals. Employees lie to their bosses, who, in turn, expect to be lied to. I'm not playing coy, I'm observing that it's simply not possible, in our present situation, for me to tell you about the third suspect, and have you believe that my story was anything but a lure."
Draco spoke then. "It's Father, isn't it?"
Harry gave Draco a startled look.
Draco spoke evenly. "You suspect that Father sent the troll into Hogwarts to get at Granger, don't you? That's what you're thinking, isn't it!"
Harry opened his mouth to say, Actually, no, and then managed to think ahead and stop himself for once in his life.
"I see..." Harry said slowly. "That's what this is about. Lucius Malfoy publicly says that Hermione won't get away with what she's done, and lo and behold, a troll kills her." Harry smiled then, in a way that bared his teeth. "And if I deny that here, then Draco, who isn't an Occlumens, can then testify under Veritaserum that the Boy-Who-Lived does not suspect Lucius Malfoy of having sent a troll into Hogwarts to kill Hermione Granger, sworn to the Noble House of Potter, whose blood debt was recently purchased for a hundred thousand Galleons et cetera." Harry leaned back slightly, though his wooden stool had no back with which to do it properly. "But now that it's been pointed out, I see that it's very reasonable. Obviously you killed Hermione Granger, just like you threatened to do in front of the whole Wizengamot."
Oh, so this is getting fun. Harry posits another suspect, whoever killed her, messed with the wands, framed her for murder--so either Lucius killed her or blamed the murder on her and took all of Harry's money. Which is true? Lucius claims Harry killed her for a refund. (Yeah right, like a Malfoy's going to give money back.)
"I tried to tell you, Father," Draco said under his breath, "but nobody can imagine Harry
Potter until they've actually met him..."
Harry had by now caught the general rhythm of Professor Quirrell's cynicism and was able to generate it independently.
Took ya long enough. But then again, I was born cynical.
Lucius offers Harry some kind of favor if he admits to the Wizengamot that Lucius didn't do it. He'd reduce the money or allow for later repayment. Harry grumbles that Lucius was perfectly aware that Hermione was framed and Draco was bait, so his counterproposal is to get his money returned, he'll announce to the Wizengamot he has no animus (?! animosity, I think is what you want there) against House Malfoy, and they team up against whoever's really doing it.
"We decide to screw the roles we're supposed to play, and ally with each other instead of fighting. It could be the one thing the enemy doesn't expect us to do."
Oh cool! Go for it, Malfoys!
Lucius calls Harry mad, and Harry calls it justice and says he can't possibly cooperate while he's holding House Potter money under false pretenses now. Lucius says Harry doesn't have anything worth that much to offer him. O RLY, Harry says. What about the next generation's future alliances and the Muggle economy (for the record, 40 thousand Galleons = 2 million Muggle pounds).
They'd find it amusing, that the fate of a country was revolving around two million pounds sterling. They'd think it was cute.
D'awwww, cute! Anyway, Harry says he's offering Lucius a fair chance to be fair. If he refuses that special opportunity, then?
"If the government can be reformed peacefully and it would disturb the peace to do otherwise, I'll pay you the money out of petty cash. Or maybe the Death Eaters will be retried for past crimes and executed as a matter of justice, as a result of due legal process, of course."
Lucius thinks Harry is crazy to say these things with no power or wealth.
"Yes, it's silly to think I could scare you. After all, you're not a Dementor."
I'm not sure what this next part is about:
And Harry went on smiling. He'd looked it up, and apparently a bezoar would heal almost any poison if you shoved it into someone's mouth fast enough. Maybe that wouldn't repair radiation damage from Transfigured polonium, but then again, maybe it would. So Harry had looked up the freezing points of various acids, and it turned out that sulfuric acid would freeze at just ten degrees Celsius, which meant Harry could buy a liter of acid on the Muggle market, freeze it solid, and Transfigure it down to a tiny little unnoticable water-ice chip to be flipped into someone's mouth and ingested. No bezoar would compensate for that, once the Transfiguration wore off. Harry had no intention of saying it out loud, of course, but now that he'd failed decisively to prevent any deaths during his quest, he had no further intention of being restrained by the law or even the code of Batman.
Last chance to live, Lucius. Ethically speaking, your life was bought and paid for the day you committed your first atrocity for the Death Eaters. You're still human and your life still has intrinsic value, but you no longer have the deontological protection of an innocent. Any good person is licensed to kill you now, if they think it'll save net lives in the long run; and I will conclude as much of you, if you begin to get in my way. Whoever sent the troll after Granger must have targeted you too and hit you with some curse that makes former Death Eaters melt into a pile of goo. Very sad.
I kind of like how Harry thinks about such things. Muahahahahahah.
Draco quietly encourages his father to consider it, because he doesn't think Harry made all of it up and it could be checked, and the money won't mean that much, and he'll be friends with House Malfoy again--"the way he thinks of being friends, anyway. And if we don't, he'll be your enemy, whether it's in his own interests or not, he'll just go after you. Harry Potter really does think like that. It's not about money to him, it's about what he thinks is honor."
"But let's get one part of it straight," Draco said, now staring directly at him. There was a fierce light in his eyes. "You wronged me. And you owe me."
"Acknowledged," Harry said quietly. "Conditional on the rest of it, of course."
Dum dum dum....Lucius rethinks opening his mouth on this and just mutters "Mad." Duh. Harry keeps his mouth shut as the Malfoys argue and Draco is losing. Harry proposes next steps, more argument occurs (geez, even the author is skimming this), and Lucius clarifies that Harry can get "Longbottom and Bones" to go along with it even if Dumbledore isn't okay with it. Oh, sure, if it's MY idea, Harry says. Harry's already drawn up a contract ahead of time. It cancels the blood debt, Harry gets his money back, it's nobody's fault...
"I had to promise my keepers not to sign anything you gave me. So I made sure to compose this myself, and sign it before I left."
Draco emitted a choked laugh.
As do I. Brilliant, Harry P-E-V.
"I also promised not to touch a quill while I was in Gringotts," Harry said. He reached into his robes again and drew out a Muggle pen, along with a sheet of normal paper. "Will this wording be all right?" Harry rapidly scribbled down a legal-sounding statement to the effect that House Potter didn't hold House Malfoy responsible in any way for Hermione Granger's murder and didn't believe they had anything to do with it, then held up the paper in the air for Lord Malfoy's inspection.
Lord Malfoy looked at the paper, rolled his eyes slightly, and said, "Good enough, I suppose. Though to have the proper meaning, you should use the legal term indemnify rather than exonerate -"
"Nice try, but no. I know exactly what that word means, Lord Malfoy." Harry took his parchment and began copying down his original wording more carefully.
Niiiiiiiiiiice. Lucius ponders this "Muggle artifact." How does it work? It writes without an inkwell. Lucius deems it "an amusing trinket." To some. Anyway, while Lucius stalls on signing, who's that third suspect again, Harry? Dumbledore. Harry cites that troll-killing weapon Dumbledore gave him at the start of the school year (that rock), which he finds suspicious even if killing a student isn't Dumbledore's style. Draco asks if it was a specific troll-killing device--nope. Would it work against an assassin? Nope. Fight in school? Nope, Harry thinks it was more intended for non-humans. Draco defines this as "against magical creatures."
"But... I mean, it might not have been intended as a weapon at all, I used it in a strange way, it could have just been a crazy whim -"
"No," Lucius Malfoy said lowly. "Not a whim. Not coincidence. Not Dumbledore."
"Then it's him," Draco said. Slowly Draco's eyes narrowed, and he gave a vicious nod. "It's been him since the beginning. The court Legilimens said that someone had used Legilimency on Granger. Dumbledore admitted that it was him. And I bet the wards did go off when Granger cursed me and Dumbledore just ignored them."
But...what's his motive? Is he evil? Now watch Draco go all Harry-like:
Draco Malfoy jumped out of his chair and began pacing around the room, black robes swishing behind the young boy, the goblin guards staring at him in some surprise through their enchanted goggles. "To figure out a strange plot, look at what happens, then ask who benefits. Except that Dumbledore didn't plan on you trying to save Granger at her trial, he tried to stop you from doing that. What would've happened if Granger had gone to Azkaban? House Malfoy and House Potter would've hated each other forever. Of all the suspects, the only one who wants that is Dumbledore. So it fits. It all fits. The one who really committed the murder is - Albus Dumbledore!"
On the balcony, with a troll! Someone check the envelope!
"Um," Harry said. "But why give me an anti-troll weapon? I said it was suspicious, I didn't say that it made any sense."
Draco nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe Dumbledore thought you'd stop the troll before it got Granger and then he could blame Father for sending it. A lot of people would be very angry if they thought Father had even tried to do something like that, in Hogwarts. Like Father said, Dumbledore must've lost face when people found out that a student had actually died in Hogwarts, being safe is what Hogwarts is famous for. So that part probably wasn't supposed to happen."
Harry's mind involuntarily flashed back to the horror in Dumbledore's eyes when he'd seen Hermione Granger's body.
Would I have gotten there in time, if the Weasley twins hadn't had their magic map stolen? Could that have been the plan? And then, though Dumbledore didn't know it, somebody stole their map, and I was too late... but no, that doesn't make much sense, I found out too late, how could Dumbledore have guessed that I'd use a broomstick... well, he did know I had one...
There was no way a plan like that could work.
And it hadn't.
But someone going a little bit senile might expect it to work, and a phoenix might not know the difference.
Eeek. Anyway, Draco still ponders the use of an enchanted troll getting used ahead of time, and that he wasn't supposed to die in the first plot, and things didn't go as planned once Draco left and blah de blah. What do we do?
"That, too, is clear to me," Draco said. He whirled on them and raised a finger high in the air. "We shall find the proof to convict Dumbledore of this crime, and bring him to justice!"
Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy looked at each other.
Neither of them quite knew what to say.
SHERLOCK DRACO! ALL HE NEEDS IS THE RIGHT HAT.
"My son," Lucius Malfoy said after a time, "truly, you have done very well this day."
"Thank you, Father!"
"However, this is not a play, we are not Aurors, and we do not put our trust in trials."
Some of the light went out of Draco's eyes. "Oh."
"I, ah, do have a sentimental fondness for trials," Harry interjected. I cannot believe I am having this conversation. He needed to go home and take a sheet of paper and a pencil and try to figure out whether Draco's reasoning actually made sense. "And evidence."
No kidding. Anyway, Lucius wants proof of this and says that House Malfoy will do anything Harry wants if he comes up with that. Harry notes that that'll leave a big hole in the power structure--for yourself, Lucius says?
"So this is what I'd want House Malfoy to do for me, Lord Malfoy, if Dumbledore gets removed because of me. When the opposition is most frightened - that's when they'll be offered a last-minute arrangement to avoid a civil war. Some of your allies might not prefer it, but there'll be a lot of neutrals who'll be glad to see stability. The bargain will be that instead of you taking over right away, Draco Malfoy will take power when he comes of age."
"What? " Draco said.
"Draco has testified under Veritaserum that he tried to help Hermione Granger. I bet there'd be a lot of people in the opposition who'd take a chance on him rather than fight. I'm not sure how exactly you'd enforce it - Unbreakable Vows or Gringotts contracts or what - but there'll be some sort of enforceable compact about power going to Draco after he graduates Hogwarts. I'll throw any support the Boy-Who-Lived has behind that bargain. Try to persuade Longbottom and Bones and so on. Our first plan paves the way for that later, if you're careful to act honorable when you deal with Longbottom and Bones this time around."
"Father, I swear I didn't -"
Lucius's face twisted into a grim smile. "I know you didn't, son. Well." The white-haired man stared across the mighty golden table at Harry Potter. "Those terms are acceptable to me. But fail in any part of our agreement, whether our first bargain, or the second, and there shall be consequences for you, Harry Potter. Clever words will not halt that."
And Lucius Malfoy signed the parchment.
ALLRIGHTY THEN. Cut to Mad-Eye staring at the door, pondering that you can never stop thinking of possible plots that Lucius might be up to. Harry emerges. Did you sign anything? Heee.....
"You exonerate House Malfoy of any involvement in Hermione Granger's death? Do you have any idea what you've done, you little fool? Why in Merlin's name would you do something like WHAT -"
Okay, this is kind of technical but amusing.... I guess three and a half stars?