By Darren Held

Yep, You Had to Be There

My brain is toast. It’s been a long week of thinking and working hard, and I’m all epiphanied out. So instead of nuggets of improv-y wisdom, today I’ll just leave you with some highlights of stuff that happened in various classes this week:

Tracy: I can’t eat pork, it’s Yom Kippur!
Leon: So? We’ve been out of Jewish for 10 years.

Antonio: It’s against regulations to share personal information. Zodiac stuff is ok.

Kevin: This ain’t for sale.

Emily: I showed my friends. They said it’s just a rash.

Michelle: Call 1-800-555-Eat-Poison.

Richard: Do it!!

Aimee: I don’t have fancy cocktails glasses.
Barbi: Well, what kind do you have?
Aimee: I have sippy cups.

Suzanne: I’m Detroit. I will fuck you up.

I know. You had to be there. But thinking about the scenes those lines came from still makes me giggle. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it. Or you could sign up for an improv class of your own and see what all the giggling is about. New classes start in October!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Mix Up Your Improv Muscles

I had an epiphany literally 13.5 seconds ago, and now I am all aflutter to share that epiphany with you. You’re welcome.

Lately, everyone in the brand-new Held2gether Level 3 improv class seems to have really broken through some obstacles and taken their improv to a whole new level. Most of us have been in classes together on and off for anywhere from 6 months to 3.5 years, and certainly I have seen tremendous progress over that time period, in myself and in my classmates. So this current leap isn’t entirely a new concept; however, it’s unique in that it seems to be applicable across the board. So it’s not like I’m having a breakthrough while somebody else is struggly. It’s like we’re ALL on the upswing.

And I have figured out why. No, really.

It’s because Darren has started giving us a bunch of new exercises. They’re not really any harder than what we’ve been doing throughout our time in Level 2, and they don’t actually introduce new skills or concepts. They’re just different. And that’s all it took.

You know how when you exercise, you’re supposed to mix up your workouts to keep your muscles from getting used to a set routine and to help get better overall results? It’s like that. We were starting to know what exercises to expect in each week of class. So even if it wasn’t a conscious decision, there was an element of “oh, I gotta remember to have big emotion tonight” or “yep, gonna be justifying stuff today, better be ready to think.” Without noticing it, our improv muscles were getting lazy and complacent. Now, we have no idea what’s coming next. Our improv muscles are confused and can’t predict what they’re going to have to do in any given class. So we’re ready to bring everything, rather than just trot out a particular skill.

I suppose I could explain how the same is true in real life – how you can have a better overall experience by not doing the same ol’ thing, day in and day out, and how you can get more out of everything by pushing yourself in new and different ways. Oh. Looks like I just did. Guess that’s just how I roll.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

My current focus for my own improve-your-improv campaign is making stuff matter, raising the stakes. I mention this because, well, Richard isn’t always around to give me suggestions for blog posts and it’s the main thing on my mind at the moment.

You did know this blog is all about me, right?

Last night in a drop-in class, we did a bunch of character exercises, which is always fun and challenging for those of us who can’t act. I suppose it’s fun and challenging for people who can act as well, but since I have no idea what that would be like I’m just guessing. In one exercise, we first did a short monologue as a city – any city – taking on a voice and posture and giving information as if we were the personification of that city. I chose Bakersfield.

What? It’s a city. Anyway, my take on Bakersfield was slow, gruff and kind of an “I know nobody really likes me, but you can’t really live without me” attitude. Not a mean, in-your-face attitude, but more of a resigned yet not pathetic outlook on life.

The next step was to create a human character out of that personification, and that part went fine as well. Martha had the same resigned yet somewhat confident attitude that Bakersfield had. The final step was to put that character into a scene with another person’s character from the same exercise.

As soon as Antonio and I opened our scene, I realized what the problem with my Bakersfield/Martha character was. She was resigned. She admired Antonio (Kimmy) for his cheerfulness, but she didn’t take action to be that way. She didn’t resent her coworkers for taking advantage of her, she simply made it okay by misfiling reports.

This wasn’t a full-blown scene, it was just a quick exercise to see how these characters might interact with others and to give the players a chance to let the characters move around and do stuff. If it had been a “real” scene, the only way to salvage a resigned character would be to have THIS be the moment when she snaps. Either she’s done being resigned and decides to embrace life, or she goes the opposite direction and gets all up in everybody’s grille about taking advantage of her or whatever.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Let’s Get Physical

It occurred to me that one thing I’ve never really written about here is physicality in improv. My bad. It’s definitely time to get physical.

Whether it’s changing your physical appearance and posture, moving around the stage, or literally getting physical with your scene partners, physicality is an important component of improv that gets overlooked sometimes. But in terms of committing fully to a character and an emotion, physicality can often be the part that makes it all believable.

If your character is angry, we want to see that anger throughout your body – not just in your face or your words. We want the clenched fists, the aggressive stance, we want it all. If you’re in a war, we want to see you lugging a rifle or creeping across the stage on your belly. If you’re having an intense exchange with your partner, we want you to touch each other the way people do in whatever that situation is: have a shoving match, stroke their hair, grab their arm.

It makes sense to most people that in order to be a different character, they would stand differently. But that also means they will walk (or shuffle, or crawl, or dance or whatever) differently. They’ll talk differently. This week, I saw amazing commitment in both Level 1 improv classes, and part of what elevated the commitment to the realm of “amazing” was the bold physicality people embraced.

And yes, I realize you have to have a lot of trust in order to hang all over your scene partner or fling your entire body at them in a Dirty Dancing attempt at a lift. At Held2gether, we do our best to create an encouraging, safe, supportive environment that helps build trust between students and allows them to push themselves out of the comfort zone of “normal” physicality.

Because you know what? Normal is totally overrated. Just sayin’.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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