HELD2getherHELD2gether

By Darren Held

Improv: Funny, Brilliant and Magical

Saturday night, we had our best improv comedy show to date. You might even say it was the best improv show ever. Or you might not. Your call.

Anyhoo. We all got some very nice comments and compliments after the show, and we appreciate every one of those wonderful comments. I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of hearing adjectives like funny, brilliant and magical. Still, my favorite compliments are the ones that start with, “You guys were…” You know. Plural.

Naturally, I want to be the best I can be in any improv show. Trust me, I’m not above needing ego gratification, so I really want Darren to notice when I make a big breakthrough or do something we were all beginning to think I’d never be able to do. I mean cuz he’s the boss and all.

But as far as the audience goes, I just want people to think the scene was funny, brilliant and magical. Part of doing awesome improv is everyone doing the best they can to make everyone look good. The audience shouldn’t be able to pinpoint who made a scene funny, brilliant or magical, because the players should all work together seamlessly to build a scene and layer information and give each other labels and make any so-called “mistakes” into improv gold.

I get that everybody in the audience has their own personal preferences when it comes to comedy, and some people prefer big characters while others prefer witty information, etc. But when improv works, the audience should feel like the scene couldn’t have succeeded without each of those parts working together as one.

That’s what we did Saturday night, and I am so proud of us! If you missed out, no worries. The H2G Friday Company has a show this Friday night: Menos Uno at First Fridays Bixby Knolls. So you have another chance to experience funny, brilliant and magical!

You’re welcome.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv-y State of Mind

Lisa and I were discussing my shortcomings yesterday (well, not all of them; that would take a LONG time). Just the obvious ones: girl, blonde and straight. I argued that “blonde” shouldn’t be held against me since I am not technically a natural blonde. Lisa countered that blonde is a state of mind more than a hair color and that in that regard, my blondness is in fact natural.

Holy randomness, Batman, what is she talking about now?!? And does it have anything to do with improv?

Please don’t doubt me, peeps. It upsets me to think you don’t have faith in my ability to tie anything and everything to improv.

See, what Lisa’s remarks made me think about was the notion that literally everything is a state of mind. Facts are facts, of course. But a fact in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing from one person to the next. “I have a cold,” may be a statement of fact. But for one person that may mean whining and feeling sorry for himself (cuz it’s usually a man who can’t cope with a cold, let’s be honest) while for another person, it means, “Hey! I have an awesome sexy voice for a change!”

There may be facts about your improv skills and abilities, but it’s your state of mind regarding those facts that make all the difference in the world. You can defend your weaknesses and hide behind your limitations. And if you do, you get to keep them. Or you can use those weaknesses and limitations to inspire you to work harder and become even better. You can stick with what you’re already good at, and ignore the stuff you struggle with. And if you do, you’ll see all your friends and classmates passing you by. Or you can trust that what you’re good at will still be there while you take some time to focus all your attention on the stuff you struggle with.

Facts are facts. But your state of mind is what determines what’s the truth. In improv and in life. Just sayin’.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv/Improve

I’ve written a lot of improv-tips-for-people-in-improv-classes posts lately because I’ve been getting questions in class that prompt such posts. But I haven’t forgotten our basic premise improv for life, I assure you.

How could I? It’s our raison d’etre. Um, duh. Plenty of other schools teach plenty of other kinds of improv. Some schools even teach plenty of similar improv. But no other schools I know of teach improv to non-performers in a way that a) is approachable and accessible and makes sense to “real” people and b) still pushes those real people to improve in the core skills of improv. Which are, you know, the core skills of life.

It would be easy to have a “class” (and I use that term loosely in this context) where you just play around at improv games. People would have a blast and make friends and relieve stress. That’s great; of course, that’s also referred to as a “party” and those, I’ve heard, are quite popular.

It’s also easy to have a class designed for performers, and push them hard to expand their acting skills and characterizations and commitment. Every acting school, improv school and mime school in LA does exactly that. Well, to be honest, I’m just guessing about the mime schools.

What’s tricky is to have a class that strongly emphasizes the fundamentals of improv and requires dedication and commitment without demanding excellent performing skills. People who take H2G classes are most often taking them for personal growth – fun is usually on the list, along with better communication skills, enhanced relationship skills, improved listening, working better with others, etc. Naturally, our job is to push the students out of their comfort zone and help them get comfortable in the discomfort – while still making the overall experience fun. And improv class is fun… but it’s not all about relieving stress. Sometimes improv class creates stress for students, especially when they are working out a particularly troublesome demon of some sort.

I, for one, am not going to apologize for that. Because when that struggly time comes – and it will, trust me – I know that if the student sticks with it and embraces that discomfort and commits to working through it, the result will be life-changing for them. Pushing yourself to overcome obstacles (of any type) expands your capacity and enhances your life. Anyone can stay the same. It takes effort to change and improve. Fortunately, Held2gether improv class can make that effort a whole lot more enjoyable – and effective.

Uh, that’s why we call it improv for life, btw.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Just Say Thank You

We have our monthly improv comedy show at Hot Java this Saturday. So yay!

Thinking about the show reminded me of something I wanted to share with you. You’re welcome.

When I went to culinary school (yes, I can cook; I just eat out all the time because I hate doing dishes) one of my instructors would get über annoyed if anyone would apologize for something they made. You know, like, “Oh, sorry, I should’ve browned the chicken longer” or “I’m sorry, I thought fourteen jalepeños would be better than one” or whatever. People do that when they invite others over for a meal. A guest will say, “Wow, this is great bean salad,” and whoever made the salad will say, “Oh, it’s no good – I should’ve used haricots verts instead of regular green beans.”

Damn, I’m rambling. Anyway, my teacher’s point was that, you’ve gone to some effort to make something for your friends or family and, presumably, you weren’t trying to poison them. So don’t apologize! Especially if they said they liked it – because if they liked it, and then you babble about how it’s not actually any good, you’re kind of insulting their taste.

Hey! I have a point! The same is true when you perform an improv show. I hear audience members come up and tell the performers things like great show or oh my god, you were so funny, and the performers mumble about how they sucked or it wasn’t funny or somebody other than them was funny or we were off tonight or whatever.

DON’T DO THAT. If the audience thought you were funny, don’t insult their taste by insisting you weren’t. You may know for a fact that what you did wasn’t good improv, but that’s a discussion to have with your director/teacher/priest. Unless you purposely did something horrible that you should apologize for, like showed up drunk or naked or refused to speak during your scenes, accept their compliments with a nice, “thank you!”

And for those of you who are coming to see us perform this Saturday, I promise not to apologize no matter how much you compliment us.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv and Trust

I’m torn today… Do I write about why you absolutely, positively should NOT go for the joke in improv? Or do I write about trust? Argh. So many choices.

Okay. I flipped a coin, and trust won. I’ve mentioned before that improv class is great for building trust, and I totally stand by that. At H2G classes, we holler “Yay!!” till the cows come home and clap till our hands ache, which makes for a safe, supportive environment in which to play. When you realize you can take creative risks and get support and encouragement even when you fail, you start to trust in yourself and others more. It’s awesome.

But there’s more to this whole idea of trust. You have to be trustworthy yourself. I know you’re thinking, “Well, jeez, Sonnjea, I’m trustworthy. I clap and holler “Yay!” with the best of ’em.” And I believe you. I really do.

What I’m referring to now is what you do in your scenes. Since we’ve established a safe place in which to play, your scene partners will trust you – unless you do something to make them not. This has nothing to do with being “perfect” at improv, because there is literally no such thing. It has to do with respecting your scene partners and the art of improv.

If you want your scene partners NOT to trust you, I can give you two sure-fire ways to accomplish that:

  1. Drive an agenda
  2. Go for the joke

Well gosh, it looks like I’ll be talking about going for the joke today after all. There’s a surprise.

But first, driving an agenda. When you go onstage with an idea in mind, you have an agenda. Having an idea is fine – we all have ideas. Holding onto it is the problem. LET IT GO. The only reason to drive an agenda is because you don’t trust. If you really, honest-to-goodness trusted your scene partners, yourself and the process, you would happily let go of your ideas.

When you drive an agenda, you’re essentially telling your scene partner, “My idea is better than yours. I don’t even know what yours is, but I’m sure mine is better. We’re going to do it this way.” I don’t have to explain to you why your scene partner isn’t going to trust you when you behave that way.

And now, back to going for the joke. Those of you who know me know this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Naturally, I’ma tell you why. Improv is a team sport, peeps. The goal should always be to do the best improv you can do. Going for an obvious joke or one-liner does nothing to build a scene. It’s the opposite of giving your scene partner gifts of labels and information – it’s seeing an opportunity to get yourself an easy laugh.

That, my friends, is selfish. If you want to make jokes and get laughs for yourself, do stand-up. In a team sport like improv, there is no place for glory hounds. Making innuendos, being jokey or acting like a clown are all ways of saying, “Hey! Look at me!!” When you do that, your scene partner instantly knows that you will sacrifice them and the scene in a heartbeat to get yourself a laugh. Guess what? They won’t trust you if you do that.

If your scene partners can’t trust you, they won’t feel safe playing with you. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be able to commit. If they can’t commit, you don’t have a scene. Period.

Trust me. I know about these things.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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