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By Darren Held

Confidence? I Know I Had Some Around Here Somewhere…

Confidence is a tricky thing.

I know, profound, right? I’m nothing if not deep.

Confidence is not my strong suit. I’m shy, which implies a certain inherent lack of confidence to begin with, and on top of that it’s my job to teach people how to be fearless. Yeah, the universe has a funny sense of humor.

I was talking to a classmate the other day, who was also having a crisis of confidence. She has an on-camera job and can’t show fear any more than I can, and we agreed that all you can do when you’re feeling less than the kick-ass alpha chick you are is act like you are and put it all out there, then go home and have a good cry. (Note: this is not a sexist statement, so please don’t yell at me. I think the kick-ass alpha guys should do the same.)

The thing is, as with virtually any problem you’re having in life, a crisis of confidence results from not being in the moment. It’s either angstyness over something you’ve done in the past that you fear others are judging negatively, or paralyzingness over something you have to do in the future that you fear others will judge negatively. When you are RIGHT HERE IN THIS MOMENT, you can’t be thinking about the past or the future at all. And when you’re fully present in this moment and committed to what you are doing in this moment, there’s no fear. All there is, is this thing you’re doing.

In improv classes, you learn to be in the moment because the moment is really all you have. And that skill spills over into real life, which is awesome. I’m not perfect, so I don’t always remember to stay present and in the moment – but I recognize it quicker and quicker when I don’t, and I don’t let the Crisis of Confidence Monster have its way with me nearly as long any more.

I know it can be scary to try something new, especially something as intimidating as improv. But finding the confidence to try it can be the key to finding the confidence to do pretty much anything else in life you’ve been afraid to try.

And yes, I’m quite confident that angstyness and paralyzingness are words. Sheesh.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv: The Right Tool for the Job

People in improv classes sometimes get annoyed that there are rules to improv. There is a tendency to think that you get a suggestion from the audience, then do whatever you want on stage based on that suggestion, and somehow it turns out funny.

It doesn’t. I’m just sayin’. And if that were the case, there would be no need for improv classes.

The rules are not meant to be constraints to stifle your creativity. They’re really more like the structure within which you get to let your creativity run free – but that structure is necessary so that all the players have some idea of what to do, and what is expected of them.

If I have NO idea what my scene partner will do, it’s virtually impossible to trust them. But when I know that they will play by the rules and “yes, and” me, commit to our scene and add information that makes sense, I can relax and trust them and we can play the scene and somehow it turns out funny.

The rules of improv are like tools. Whether you’re fixing your car or making dinner or performing brain surgery, you use specific tools. You could conceivably fix your car with a grater and a scalpel, but those aren’t the best options and the results will not be ideal. You maximize your chances for success by using the right tools for the job.

Improv’s the same. You could ask a question, and it might be okay. But when you use your “Making a Statement” tool, you add more information and don’t put the burden on your partner. If you go for a joke, you’ll probably get a cheap laugh. But when you use your “Playing it Real” tool, you advance the scene and layer information that gets you AND your partner a lot of laughs.

There’s an “Agreement” tool, a “Listening” tool and a “Being in the Moment” tool as well, among many others. And unlike other schools, at improv school we give you all the tools you’re gonna need.

You’re welcome. (Toolbox not included).

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Skinny Girls Swear, Too

After our improv show the other night, a lady who has been to a bunch of our shows came up and told us how much better we’ve gotten. She went on to say, “And it’s so great that you swear, now, Sonnjea. It’s fun to see you come out of your shell.”

WTF? Seriously, I don’t even know how to respond to comments like that. I mean, I appreciate the intended compliment, and I like that people think I’m getting out of my shell, but the swearing thing is ludicrous. I have no idea how she has been to a bunch of our shows and thinks I’ve suddenly taken up swearing. I’m guessing deafness or amnesia. Darren is thrilled I don’t perform with the Friday Company anymore, because if anybody was gonna drop an unintentional f-bomb (or 6) in a family-friendly show, it would be me. At Toastmasters, instead of the “um” counter, I need a profanity counter.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it frustrates me when people don’t see me the way I am. Yesterday at the gym, a trainer there said, “Don’t lose any more weight! I mean, you look great, but don’t lose any more!”

I haven’t lost any weight. Not one pound.

The fact is, I’m a skinny chick who swears like a sailor. These are not things that are subject to interpretation; they are facts. And yet, people still see the facts of any situation through their own filters. So even things that seem cut-and-dried, black-and-white will be interpreted differently by different people.

Yes, my friends, I have a point. The point is, although it may be difficult in real life to force people to see you the way you are, in improv you get to call out exactly what you want people to see. Label yourself fat, or thin, or a prude or a mean-ass truck-driving bitch, or whatever. It’s all imaginary, so the audience depends on you to label everything. Then they see what you want them to see, and not their own vague interpretation of what might be happening. And then hilarity ensues.

And if the improv labels run counter to what people insist is your “type,” even more hilarity ensues. If the big burly guy says fuck a lot, it’s not that interesting. But if the soccer-mom-looking girl is mean and calls somebody a bitch, it gets a huge laugh. So let people have their misguided image of you, and use it to your advantage.

And if that means dropping a few f-bombs, I say just fucking do it.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Sketch Writing Collaboration

A couple weeks ago, we had to collaborate on an assignment in sketch writing class. I’ve never written with someone else before and part of what appeals to me about writing is the solitary nature of it, so I was a little nervous about the concept.

Oh, all right, I’ll just say it: I like to be in charge. Whatever. Don’t even try to tell me you don’t.

What happened when we split into our group was interesting. For a few minutes, there was some hesitant “should we…” and “maybe we could…” suggestions for ideas. And then, as soon as we hit on a set-up for the sketch that appealed to all three of us, all the hesitancy evaporated into a flurry of yes, anding. One person would throw out an idea and the other two would say, “yeah, and maybe this other thing happens as a result” and on and on. Not all the ideas were workable, and there were time contraints to deal with as well, but the whole collaboration became one amazing example of what you can accomplish in 15 minutes when people accept each others’ ideas and add to them. And what we came up with was funnier and had more interesting angles than what any of the 3 of us would’ve come up with alone.

Not everyone in the sketch class has improv training, and I don’t know for sure how all the other collaborations went. But my group was made up exclusively of H2G improv students, and the entire process was fun, supportive and HILARIOUS. The other groups said they were feeling pressured because we were laughing so hard and having so much fun, they assumed we must be writing the funniest sketch in the history of sketches.

It wasn’t the funniest sketch in the history of sketches, but it was damn funny. And all 3 of us commented to Darren after class how enjoyable it was to collaborate. When I over-analyzed it to death later on, as I am wont to do from time to time, I realized WHY it was fun to collaborate and came to the conclusion that everyone, everywhere, in every kind of job should learn how to do “yes, and” so that they could get more done and have more fun doing it.

And when I’m in charge, that’s how it’s gonna be. Just sayin’.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Free Comedy Shows in Long Beach!

Holy cow, it’s practically the end of summer. That might actually mean something to me if I didn’t live in southern California. As it is, all it means is that new improv classes are starting soon, a couple of awesome FREE improv shows are happening and, uh, my birthday is over.

I haven’t pimped out the upcoming shows yet, so here ya go! Tomorrow night at 8 is our monthly shindig at Hot Java, and we’ve got two special guests this time. Or is that “special” guests? I guess you’ll have to come out and decide for yourselves.

Oh, and that’s not all… we have a whole different kind of First Fridays show for you in September! Adult beverages and humor to match at Wine Down Lounge on Friday, September 7th. Improvisors + wine. What could go wrong?

Hope to see you there!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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