By Darren Held

Let’s Pretend

Let’s pretend with troupie Richard Martinez, mmmkay? He has some awesome insights about improv. You know. And life.

“Let’s pretend that you’re the Princess and I have to rescue you because I’m the guy on the horse.”
“And then pretend that I have magic freezing powers and you have to get through the ice to save me.”
“And pretend that the evil queen has a dragon that I have to fight too.”

Being able to watch a scene like this one is one of the main reasons I love my job as a preschool teacher. It’s a daily reminder that my four and five year old students are much better Improvisers than I am.

I say that with humor and a bit of self-deprecation, but there’s also truth to it. The children I work with aren’t afraid to jump into a scenario and “pretend” the hell out of it. I’m envious of that. They don’t have a lifetime of experience, maturing, and doubting to make them second guess their play. They live in the moment and let that guide them.

I was always a bit of a serious kid. And a loner. People used to say I was mature for my age, like it was a good thing, but in all honesty, if I could go back and relive my youth, I’d focus on having much more fun. It’s a fact that young children learn through engaged play. I think I missed out on some social interaction learning by being so “mature.” I’ve tried making up for this in my adulthood by going into a field of work where I get to play everyday, and also by embracing my love of theatre where I get to participate in plays.

Improv, however, has been the most successful venue for me to really experience that joy of learning through play. The catch is, that unlike my preschoolers, I do have a lifetime of experiences that hinder how deeply I throw myself into a scene. I have the thoughts like: “What if this isn’t funny?” “What if this is too silly?” “What if this doesn’t make sense?” “What if people laugh at me, but not in the good way?” It affects my performance. It affects my confidence. And it affects my growth.

That’s why I continue taking classes. And I continue to push myself by trying things that make me uncomfortable. Those thoughts that hinder me are just that: thoughts. They aren’t in my blood. They aren’t a part of me. They can be overcome. And while I’m in the safe environment of a Held2gether class, I can break those thoughts down through my play, and learn to disregard them.

Now obviously, during a scene on stage, I’m not going to say “Let’s pretend that I’m on a boat and we are fishing and I have a secret to tell you.” I understand that “let’s pretend” is a tool that lets five year olds distinguish between reality and fiction. But every time I watch these children “pretend,” it reminds me that one of the keys to engaging in a good scene, is simply to play and have fun.