By Darren Held

Improv and Cold Medication

I have misplaced my voice. I hate to use the word “lost” because I sincerely hope I find it again. Kinda hard to do improv if I can’t say words. Naturally, this comes a couple days before a HUGE, sold-out show that requires me not only to use my vocal chords, but use them in a variety of ways as different characters.

I used to get laryngitis a lot when I was a kid. I’m sure it made my parents happy on some level, because I was quite the talker, and a bout of laryngitis for Sonnjea meant the other kids got a chance to speak. But I’ve never lost my voice before as an adult.

Dear god, why is she telling us this? I know; I blame the cold medication. Hell, you should see the Draw Something picture I just sent to Nate. They should put “do not operate gaming apps” warnings on cold remedies. I’m pretty sure no one with a terrible cold is eager to operate heavy machinery anyway, so that warning is pretty much pointless. But the cold remedy companies could do the whole world a big service if they would discourage cold-medication-induced ramblings and doodlings.

So. The thing is, I’m worried because I have class tomorrow that I really don’t want to miss. I’m sad enough that I’m missing class tonight, but I consider a car heavy machinery. I can’t strain my voice in class because I need it to be as strong as possible for the show on Sunday. At first, I thought I would sit out of exercises and learn by watching. But I think I will instead challenge myself to add as much information as I can non-verbally by doing really specific spacework, having huge emotional reactions and staying really connected with my scene partner. And, you know, grunting. So hopefully I’ll get a lot of caveman suggestions. Or NASCAR.

I’ll speak when I have to, but I bet I’m going to discover that dialogue is overused and I can get by pretty well on minimal talkiness. I’ll let you know how it goes.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Sparkly Is an Emotion

I haven’t mentioned the unicorns lately, and it occurred to me that you might be worried about them. Except that would be silly, because unicorns are immortal and they never get sick or sad.

That’s why, much as I love unicorns, they could never do improv. Unicorns are always sparkly and happy, and they are incapable of meanness or sadness or any negative emotion. Duh. Please don’t argue with me on this one, people.

So in an improv scene, they are never able to make an emotional change. They smile and sparkle, regardless of the information you give them. It’s wonderful in real life, but it doesn’t make for a great improv scene. Luckily, unicorns don’t really want to do improv. They know that humans need it more, so they are happy to just watch and give awesome suggestions, like “making rainbows” for an activity.

Humans, on the other hand, are designed to experience a whole broad range of emotions. But it seems that most of us have certain emotions we’re more comfortable expressing than others, at least in front of people who don’t happen to be ourselves. Back in the day, when we would do against type exercises, they would have me be anything but bitchy, because that was my go-to emotion. Then I became so nice that in a subsequent class, they had me do mean because they’d never seen that bitch character. Lately they want to see me do “flirty,” which doesn’t technically qualify as an emotion, if you ask me.

But if you think of the whole wide spectrum of emotions, there are a lot to choose from. Angry, happy and sad are the usual suspects – and a great place to start, but there are also things like paranoid, terrified, condescending, giddy, ecstatic, distraught, grief-stricken, flirty, curmudgeonly, superior… I think you get my point.

Like anything else in improv, your emotion comes down to making a choice. Decide at the top of the scene that you are going to start in a heightened emotional state of [enter an emotion that makes you uncomfortable here], and see where that takes you. Of course, you’ll have a change at some point in the scene, based on the information you and your partner come up with, and that might take you to another emotion you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t worry about it or judge how superior or giddy or whatever is “supposed” to look – just make a choice and commit to it, and you’re more than 1/2 way there.

Now I’m off to smile and sparkle with the unicorns. What? I can totally do sparkly, peeps.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Nice and Sneaky

I have gotten some incredibly nice compliments from students recently, saying that the way I critique their scenes in the intro to improv class is “encouraging, yet instructive,” “lovingly constructive” and “sneaky.”

Yeah, I needed a little explanation on that last one as well. Turns out, they meant that I say something nice, then sneak in the constructive criticism, then say something else nice.

First of all, thank you for the lovely feedback. It’s nice to know I’m not a total fuck up.

Secondly, I really have to pass those thanks on to Darren and my mother. I learned from being critiqued by Darren 1 million times, give or take, that you hear the bad stuff much better if you’ve been buttered up first. And I learned from my mom that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Which I always thought was just silly, because I have to talk sometimes. Sheesh.

Anyway. I’ve studied improv at other places, and they aren’t all like Held2gether. Since our focus is the whole improv for life thing, we really aim to make improv as fun and enjoyable as it can possibly be while still keeping in mind that it is a class, and people are paying us to teach them stuff. That means we tell you what worked in every scene or exercise, as well as what didn’t. And if you got up on the stage and opened your mouth, well then, that’s one success right there. Yay!

Of course, learning any new skill involves some frustrations, and we’re not promising otherwise. Hell, I’m frustrated in just about every class I take. I’m not a big fan of failing, FYI. I’m a HUGE fan of being willing to fail, but the actual failing kinda sucks. The fact that I’m frustrated when I fail is a good sign – it means that I’m still trying, that I still want to get better, that I will prove I can do this.

So we’ll continue to be encouraging, constructive and sneaky – but I hope we’re a bit frustrating from time to time as well. You’re welcome.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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