By Darren Held

Happy Birthday! Do Improv.

Happy birthday to me! And, uh, happy Thursday to you.

I’m not one of those people who gets sad about getting another year older. After all, as my dad always says, “It beats the hell out of the alternative.” Duh.

But sometimes I do have a tendency to think, holy crap, I’m [insert favorite two-digit numeral here] years old! What have I accomplished?!

I don’t have that thought nearly as much since I started doing improv. First of all, improv has taught me the importance of being in the moment, which means I can’t freak out about what I haven’t accomplished in the past or what I might accomplish in the future. And secondly, improv has taught me to just go for stuff and not be afraid of trying things – so there’s far less reason to lament my age and the things I haven’t done yet.

The thing is, if you’re lucky, you’re going to get another year older every year. And unless you decide RIGHT NOW that you’re going to do the stuff you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid to try, you’re going to have another year of regret to pile on top of the ____ number of years of regret you’ve accumulated.

I’m not saying the thing you need to try is improv. Well, okay, I am saying that. But it’s only because by trying improv, you will find the courage to try whatever else it is you need to try. Courage comes down to trusting that you can overcome your fear of something and do it.

As it turns out, improv is 100% about trust. So there’s that.

In another year, you’ll be another year older. By then, you could have a year of improv experience under your belt – and who knows what else! Brand new Level 1 improv classes are starting in a couple weeks. Sign up today and have a happy Sonnjea’s Birthday!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Non-Competitive Improv

I subbed for Darren’s Level 1 Improv Class last night, which was a BLAST. Obviously, you all know how much I love teaching improv, but it can be a little stressful to fill in for Darren because his students ADORE him and no matter how fabulous I might be, I’m not him.

Anyway, it was the last night of class and I made the usual last-night-of-class announcements about other upcoming classes and some awesome improv shows we’re doing in the next couple weeks. Then one of the students asked if he could make an announcement. I said sure. I’m nice like that.

He just wanted to thank his classmates for being so awesome. He said he’d taken classes at some famous schools in LA that were hyper-competitive, but that he learned so much from being in this Held2gether class that was the opposite of that – supportive and encouraging and NOT competitive. It was a great compliment to his amazing classmates, but I took it as a great compliment to Held2gether as well.

FYI, that supportive, encouraging, NOT competitive thing is our whole goal at H2G. Darren and I have done the competitive, cut-throat thing at other places… I’m not saying it’s bad. But it’s different, and it’s not how we roll here. We see improv as a team sport, where everyone supports everyone else, accepts everyone else and appreciates everyone else. And while people can certainly bond in stressful, competitive situations, the absence of competition removes the need to be “better than” or the stigma of being “worse than” and allows people to encourage each other wholeheartedly.

Improv requires honesty and vulnerability, and it’s hard to go to those scary places if you’re feeling judged and compared to others. Without the competitive thing, people are only compared to how they were last week – not to anybody else in class. So there’s no one to compete with, except your previous self.

So thank you for the compliment! And for those of you who have been on the fence about taking improv because it’s scary – come give it a try! The only person you have to be better than is the old you. And I know you can win that competition!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv for Work

We have a busy week coming up. Actually, by “we” I mean “Darren.” Darren has a busy week. Sonnjea has to drink some vodka and celebrate her birthday. And stop referring to herself in the third person. That’s obnoxious.

Anyway, Darren is off to Chicago as we speak, and will be home just long enough to unpack and repack before heading off to Denver with Viet to do an improv corporate workshop. Somebody in Denver saw us when we did a session at the American Society of Training and Development International Conference back in May and thought, “Wow! Those H2G peeps look awesome in their orange ties and funky shoes! We should totally invite them over.” So the guys are going to lead a 2-day corporate training seminar and I’m staying in the LBC to teach the Level 1 Improv classes.

We’re super excited about the folks from ASTD hiring us – we got AMAZING evaluations on the conference session, and it’s nice to know that people really get how improv can help in the workplace. But it’s even nicer that the woman who hired us said that, while she wants the improv training to help with some business objectives, she really just wants people to get something out of the session that can help them personally, in life.

Good thing that’s what we do.

Now, if you’ll excuse her, Sonnjea has to go to the first birthday lunch of what she likes to call “Birthday Season.” Cuz that’s how she rolls.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Bi-Polar? Or Just Blonde?

Sketch writing class is tonight, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it’s outrageously funny. It’s bad because it’s outrageously funny.

Yes, bi-polar disorder has been suggested, but I’ma go with “blonde.” And anyway, I have an explanation, so I’m not crazy.

The good side of outrageously funny is that it’s just plain fun. And listening to what the other students write – and their suggestions and additions to other peoples’ work – is inspiring and helps get the creative juices flowing. Writing can tend to be a lonely job, where you get stuck in your own head. Writing with 10 other people gets you out of your own drama.

The bad side of outrageously funny is that it’s intimidating as hell. Everybody in the class has hilarious ideas for characters or plots or jokes or stories – and often, for all those things in one brilliant sketch. Where do I get off calling myself a “writer” when everyone in the room writes at least as funny as I do – and frequently much, much funnier?

It’s not a different concept from improv in that regard. It’s just that I wasn’t a professional improvisor before I started taking improv classes, so it made sense that I wasn’t good at it at first. Being a professional writer makes the egotistical part of my brain think I should be able to write the funniest sketches EVER with little to no effort.

The un-egotistical part of my brain remembers that you don’t get better if you only do what you’re good at. So I can write the kinds of sketches that ARE effortless for me, and that’s all I’ll ever be able to do. Or I can write and re-write and cry and pout until I learn how to write the kinds of sketches I don’t really understand yet.

It’s true of improv, too, you know. Oh, and life. Don’t forget life.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Growing is Better than Dying

I read an interesting quote today. On FB, duh… where did people read quotes before FB? Anyway, my friend and troupemate Nate Alexander wrote, “Those that believe ‘something is better than nothing’ do themselves a great disservice.”

At first I was confused. What? It’s been, like, 4 million degrees here lately and my brain is cooked. But still, I’ve always felt that doing something is better than nothing. I mean, if the choice is 1) sit on the couch all day, or 2) sit on the couch most of the day and then walk the dog for 15 minutes, it seems like 2 is the better choice. I know your dog thinks it’s the better choice.

But Nate clarified his position, and then it made sense even to my broiled brain.

Depending upon the starting point, doing something that is JUST a bit more than nothing can be a huge victory. But not for long. In order to keep having victories, you have to keep pushing past your previous limits. So the mantra “something is better than nothing” – meaning that the most minimal effort is acceptable – can lead you to become complacent. And complacence is death. Perhaps not literally (I have an issue with being too literal lately), but in every way that matters: death of creativity, death of ambition, death of passion.

I know, I know – what the heck does this have to do with improv? I’ma tell you, so just chill a second. At first, it takes courage just to show up to improv class. You did something by finding the courage to sign up and drive to the class and walk through the door, and it was a helluva lot better than nothing. It’s so amazing to teach that first day of class and hear the students’ reasons for coming and the obstacles they hope to overcome through improv. We clap and holler “Yay!” like crazy to sincerely celebrate the victory of showing up – of doing something.

But soon, just showing up isn’t really enough. Sure, you can get through class that way. You will definitely have fun and you’ll prolly learn some stuff. But if you don’t have to dredge up the courage to try something more difficult every week, you’re cheating yourself out of the best that improv has to offer. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the only way to keep growing, in any area of your life. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying. There’s no gray area there, peeps.

So applaud the “something” that gets you off the couch. But recognize that, in order for it to truly be better than nothing, that first something has to be the springboard to countless, unending other somethings that challenge you in new and different ways.

After all, growing is better than dying. Just sayin’.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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