By Darren Held

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

I Blame the Sparkles

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Sorry for the absence. I got distracted by some sparkles. Hey, it happens. But I’m back now and chock full of vital information I just know you’re eager to have. Here ya go.

If you’ve taken a Held2gether improv class, you know that every scene starts with space work, eye contact and emotion. Theoretically, of course. But anyway, that’s the goal. You’re doing something with your hands, you’re connecting with your scene partner and you’re in some recognizable emotional state that does not include boredom. All of these things help ground you in the scene and get you on the same page as your partner and give you something to work with besides just the audience’s suggestion.

Sometimes as improvisors we’re tired or lazy or confused and we forget some or all of those scene starters… which actually just means we’ve given ourselves and our partners more work to do, which is not what we want when we’re tired or lazy or confused. So it’s good to remember Darren’s mantra: space work, eye contact emotion, space work, eye contact emotion, space work, eye contact emotion!

Only now I’m going to suggest that there should be two more parts to the mantra. Ack! More to remember! Yes and no. It’s stuff you should be doing anyway as a character, but I had this brilliant idea to break it down for myself because I tend to forget to have characters. It’s extremely frustrating to think, “Okay, I’m gonna be a clumsy oaf who spills all over everyone and bumbles around apologetically,” and then go up on stage and see some sparkles and totally forget the oaf and then I’m just Sonnjea. And no one wants to see her!

So my two new parts are: voice and posture. I really do [almost] always remember the first three. Sometimes my emotion isn’t as big as certain people would like, but it’s not that I’ve forgotten it. So I’m hoping I can just think of the 5 things when I go on stage – it seems doable; after all, it coincides with the number of fingers I have on each hand. So I’ll do my space work, make eye contact, have an emotion, stand a certain way and when I open my mouth, a different voice will come out. Standing and speaking differently can lead to a point of view which is, technically, a character! Yay! And this way, even if I’m all distracted by sparkles and don’t have a character in mind, at least I won’t look and sound like me. You’re welcome.

I’m gonna try it in all my classes this week and I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you try it, let me know. Now I’m off to feed the unicorns. What? I haven’t mentioned them for, like, a week.

By Darren Held

Turns Out, Traffic Isn’t Personal

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Sometimes I just wanna tell people to shut the f*ck up. Oh, not you. Honest.

But there are people in the world who say, “Hey, Sonnjea! How are you?” and before I can even open my mouth to reply they’ve launched into a 30-minute monologue about what a jerk their boss is, how overworked/unappreciated/mistreated they are, and how traffic on the 405 conspired to jack up their entire day.

First, let me just say this: traffic does not single anyone out to personally mess with them. We live in SoCal. Traffic is a given, just like June Gloom, hipsters and Live Team Coverage on the local news stations about Justin Bieber going to Starbucks. It just is and it’s not a personal attack. Get over it already.

Anyhoo. I understand that sometimes people need to vent, and I’m fine with that. But sometimes people just can’t stand silence. Or they don’t trust that whomever they’re talking to will fill the void (or fill it with anything as dramatic as traffic jams) if they so much as pause to take a breath.

Guess what? It’s the same with improv. I know you didn’t see that connection coming! Happy to keep you on your toes with my awesome unpredictability.

Sometimes in a scene, a person will say a perfectly good line, only before their scene partner can respond, they add another line. And another. And another. Every time a performer adds another line of dialogue, they make it harder and harder for their partner to respond organically. In improv, we really want to jump on the last thing the other person said and make a big deal about it. So if they said, “By the way, Georgina, I’ve been meaning to tell you I just don’t think your fried green tomatoes are good enough for the county fair,” their scene partner is just about to burst into tears because their fried green tomatoes are no good. But then they continue with, “Oh, and your hair is ugly that color.” And suddenly their partner is thinking up a response involving hair color. And pretty soon, one person is monologuing and the other person is standing there with a deer-in-the-headlights expression because they no longer have any idea what the scene is about.

In improv, less is more. You’ve got 3 minutes to tell a story, so you don’t want to muddle it with a lot of extraneous noise about… well, anything, actually. Say your line. Then stop. It’s totally fine if a few seconds go by. Stay connected with your scene partner through eye contact and emotion and let the scene breathe. They will respond, trust me. And if you trust them and yourself enough to let it happen naturally, the scene will be much better than if you keep on spewing facts about sharks eating their young, the teen pregnancy rate in Tennessee and the stupid traffic on the 405.

Of course, Held2gether improv classes can help you learn to just stay calm, take a deep breath and let the other person have their say. It’ll help your improv, and it’ll help your real-world conversations. And I promise, no one will tell you to shut the f*ck up.

By Darren Held

Free Long Beach Improv Show!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Hey, I keep forgetting to remind you all that Held2gether presents Last Laugh Saturday is THIS Saturday. See:

Told you. I don’t lie about these things.

For the uninitiated, LLS is our free monthly show at Hot Java, where we do an hour of unscripted short-form improv based entirely on the audience’s suggestions. Since it’s improv, we never know exactly what to expect, but there’s a good chance vampires, Westerns and lovers will be suggestions. Maybe we’ll take ’em, maybe we won’t, although we are especially fond of scenes about vampire lovers in the Wild West.

For you regulars, I just wanted to let you know we’re making some changes! Even though it’s improv and every scene is always different because it’s based on its own unique suggestion, it is possible to get into a rut. I don’t know what surprises Darren has up his sleeve, but he’s been going around laughing that evil mwahahahahaha laugh for a few days now, so I for one am a little concerned.

The show’s at 8 p.m., and it’s a good idea to get there a pretty early if you want a good seat. If you want a crappy seat, come whenever.

By Darren Held

Improv + Apathy = Death. (Not literally. Duh.)

By Sonnjea Blackwell

I read this on Facebook this morning:

Apathy is a natural, human instinct, common to us all, that consistently encourages us to seek a comfort zone in which nothing ever changes.

And I thought, “Eh, whatever.”

Okay, what I really thought was, “Hey! A blog topic! Thank you Facebook!”

See, in improv, apathy = death. If the improvisor doesn’t care, the audience doesn’t care. I mean, if you’re okay with everything, why would the audience get worked up in any direction? And the truth is, the audience wants to be worked up… they want something that’s going to surprise them and make them laugh or groan or whatever. “Oh, he just told her he’s secretly been in love with her cat for the past 3 years, that’s gonna be HUGE!” And it should be huge. But that whole apathy/comfort zone/status quo thing sometimes makes us as improvisors respond to the cat confession with, “Oh. Well, okay, I guess I can see that. She is a very fluffy cat.”

Um, what? The audience was on the edge of their seats, dying to be in it with you, and you bailed. So all they can do is let out a big sigh and wait for the next big revelation. But there might not be another revelation. So what we learn in H2G improv classes is to jump on that first bit of information. And it doesn’t have to be as big as interspecies love affairs. It could be, “You know, I’m tired of you stealing my pencil.” Which is actually funnier because the audience is like, “What? It’s a pencil, who cares!” But when you react and care about that pencil-stealing accusation, they’re surprised and caught off guard and then they’re in it with you.

That’s a good thing, fyi.

Okay, you all know how I roll by now, so you won’t be surprised that I’m going to tie this little nugget in with real life. In life, we want to stay in our comfort zone, avoid change and maintain the status quo. Why? Because the opposite is scary as hell. Duh. But life is so much more interesting when you choose to care. Be happy. Be mad. Change directions mid-stream when you realize things aren’t the way they oughtta be. It’s hard to fight that natural human instinct towards comfort, and harder still to fight society’s idea that we should go with the flow and make peace and all that. I won’t go so far as to say that in life, apathy = death. But in the same way that a scene can’t grow and flourish if you don’t push and react and change, your life won’t grow and flourish if you don’t push and react and change.

We all resist change to a certain extent. Evidently, that whole inertia concept has some merit. But staying the same means you can never get better. And at Held2gether, we want to help you get better. Not that you’re not already good. You are. We’re sure of it. But a little push outside the comfort zone couldn’t hurt, right?

Now could you please return my pencil?

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