By Darren Held

First Drafts = Crap on a Page

I had a struggly night in sketch class last night. We had to write a kind of scene that relies on a surprise twist at the end and, in essence, goes for the joke.

Aaaaaaacccckkkkkkk! This is so antithetical to the rules of improv that I had trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. And what I wrote proved my confusion. These “blackout scenes” are supposed to be really short, and short isn’t usually a problem for me; I’m used to editing the hell out of everything I write. But this was way L-O-N-G – partly because I was putting off the jokey ending as long as possible, and partly because my well-engrained improv instincts forced me to make it about relationship. So I made sure to get out the who, what, where, relationship, why today was the big day, back story, labels…

I’m not mentally challenged, no matter how much evidence to the contrary you may have amassed, and I realize that improv and sketch are not the same things. But I’ve worked really hard to study improv and learn the intricacies of why things work and why other things don’t work, and it’s hard to just disregard all that.

Fortunately, we also had to write a monologue, and while mine wasn’t stellar, it was loads better than the blackout scene so I didn’t feel like a total hack. And the awesome thing about sketch is that you can rewrite. First drafts are just crap on the page, for pete’s sake. Unlike improv, where you have to throw it all out there the first time and hope it’s great because there are no do-overs in improv, sketch writing is all ABOUT the doing over. I rewrite everything – even if the first draft was great, I play with different ideas to see how something else might’ve worked. In improv, you have drills like add info lineup and a million exercises to help you practice the skills that make for good improv. Sketch writing doesn’t have that. The only way to become a better writer is to WRITE. And write. And rewrite. And edit. And rewrite some more.

Which is what I’m going to do now. I’ma go for the joke, even if it friggin’ kills me.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

New Friends on Craigslist

I try to keep this blog all about improv but sometimes I just have to make it all about me. Like the time I climbed up on my roof in the rain. Or, you know, when I went off on the puppet people.

In any event, I’m feeling a “let’s talk about Sonnjea” post coming on, so fair warning.

Lisa informed me this morning that I would make a lousy accountant. Nate told me the other day that I looked like a trucker. Darren mentioned a week or so ago that my housekeeping skills were akin to those of a swamp dweller.

I know, right? I hope your friends are nicer to you.

Without debating the relative accuracy of these statements or the context in which they were delivered, I think we can all agree that they were not exactly complimentary. And in real life, if people tell you such things, there’s a tendency to become defensive, angry or sad. You might post something on Craigslist looking for new friends. You might drink some vodka. You might order extra fries at the truck stop. Chances are, you won’t channel your hurt feelings into cleaning the house, but you never know.

Fortunately, I don’t spend a lot of time in real life. I spend about 90% of my time in improv life, and in improv life even soul-crushing-gems like the ones my “friends” offer are gifts. Any kind of label in improv is something you can use to define your character and help find the big “what” in your scene.

  • You’d make a lousy accountant: Awesome. Maybe I’m bad at math, maybe I’m distracted by shiny objects, maybe I’m the opposite of detail-oriented. Maybe I drive a red car. In any event, I know I’m probably not too bright, and it’s always incredibly fun to play stupid.**
  • You look like a trucker: Nice. Now I know how to stand, walk, talk and scratch myself. I probably have a smokin’-n-drinkin’ voice, and there’s an excellent chance I swear a lot. A super-masculine woman (which may or may not mean lesbian) could have a hilarious point of view. Remember, I just look like a trucker… Imagine the fun of this woman working at Victoria’s Secret. Or a strip club.
  • Your place looks like a swamp: Fab. I’d love to happen upon lost things in that location to use in the scene. Empty jugs. Old tires. Little children. Saying someone is messy or a slob is good. Saying they’re like swamp people is amazing.

So when your friends tell you stuff you’d rather not hear, don’t let it get you down. Just file those labels away and use them in your next improv scene! If you don’t have an improv class to process that stuff in, then it’s high time you did! The next round of H2G Level 1 Improv Classes begins soon… sign up before it’s too late.

**If and only if you still add expert information. You can’t not know stuff. Playing dumb is tricky, because you have to still be an “expert” in your own special way and be committed to your own understanding of things.

At least I think so. After all, I’m not too bright, so I could be totally wrong.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

I’m having a weird day. I know. Shocking.

First of all, I can’t login to the server that I have to upload things to for my biggest client. These things were supposed to be uploaded a couple days ago so that I could finish their mid-month newsletters. Now, it’s not my fault that I can’t login (it’s not like I’m a doofus and forgot my password), but the guy who fixes such things is on vacation and I can’t do my work until somebody fixes it.

Secondly, my car is dead. Not permanently, of course. I mean, it’s a Honda and it only has 125K miles, which is still in the newish range. But it won’t start (I had to get towed home from the gym yesterday) and everybody seems to think it’s the starter, since the battery is good.

And finally, I found yet another stray dog. This one walked right up to me as I was getting into the car (not the dead car; another car), waited while I called the number on the collar (no answer), then leapt into the car when I opened the door.

These things can really throw a monkey wrench in your day. But the being-in-the-moment skills I have learned from years of improv

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Improv Kool-Aid

We had another super-successful Intro to Improv 1/2-day Workshop yesterday. It’s really remarkable how well the students do when thrown into improv head-first! They get a little taste of agreement, information and commitment by playing a bunch of games and exercises, and by the end of the day they’re all giddy.

As with the Level 1 classes, these workshops tend to have an overall “personality” – maybe the class in general is high energy, but weak on adding information, or sometimes it’s a class of very cerebral types who struggle with commitment. Once we had a half-day workshop that had several middle-aged ladies in it. They’d never met before the class, but it turned out they were all raunchy and dropped more F-bombs in 4 hours than I had previously thought possible. And that’s saying something, given my propensity for profanity.

This particular class was a class of people who seemed to really listen. They listened to Darren’s instructions. They listened to each other. They listened to critiques. As a result, by the end of class they were doing some stuff that we don’t even get to until week 5 in the Level 1 class.

Anyway, we have one more 1/2-day improv workshop this year, in November. If you’ve never tried improv, this is a great way to dip your toes in the water and see if you like it. If you’ve taken some improv way back in the day, it’s a great way to work off the rust. And if you’re a current improv addict, it’s a great chance to practice the fundamentals and get your improv kool-aid fix.

You’re welcome.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Somethin’ On the Side

I’m thinking of having an affair. I know I’m opening myself up to all sorts of negative judgement just for admitting that, but before you start calling me a ho, please hear me out.

First of all, I’m not interested in cheating just for the sake of cheating. I’m not that shallow, peeps. It’s just that there’s a certain somen’ I’ve been interested in for awhile now. So far I’ve just flirted a little, but the temptation is getting to me and I think I’m gonna give in. (Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” I know the feeling.)

It’s not that I’m unhappy. I’m actually very happy. But my current relationship isn’t necessarily a natural fit for me, and it’s a constant struggle to keep up and make it work. People compliment me on how well I’ve done with it, given the rocky beginning. And I don’t want them to feel like their admiration is misplaced, but the truth is the struggle takes a toll sometimes – shaking my confidence and making me feel inadequate.

On the other hand, my flirtation is just so easy. We fit. I don’t have to struggle against my natural tendencies and force myself to be something I’m not. Sometimes we don’t see each other for a few days, but it’s never awkward when we meet up again – we just pick right up where we left off.

They actually have a lot in common – both of them stimulate my mind, let my imagination run wild and make me laugh. Many studies show that humor is one of the most important components of a relationship, and I know for me the ability to make me laugh is pretty much #1.

I think they’d like each other, if you wanna know the truth.

Anyway, I’m not willing to give either of them up. So I’m gonna stay with improv, but I’m gonna cheat with sketch writing. And I’m not going to apologize for it.

What? That’s just how I roll, people.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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