By Darren Held

Not Such Glittery Wonderfulness

Last night in the Held2gether Level 3 improv class, we did a bunch of character work. If you’ve read this blog more than a handful of times, you know that characters are not my forté, so let’s just say this wasn’t one of those classes where I moseyed onstage and glittery wonderfulness flowed from me and people laughed uproariously at everything I said and did.

Nope. More like, whatever is the opposite of glittery wonderfulness followed me around like that cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen. I have a tendency to do things really fast – I talk fast, I move my arms fast and did I mention I talk fast? Anyway, I was challenging myself to take on characters that were slower. Unfortunately, coupled with my natural speediness, I also have a natural casualness. So although I may talk fast, I don’t talk with any particular intensity. The character I came up with for one exercise was slower, but she had no intensity or point of view and so she came across as generally bitchy but in a low energy way. IT WAS TERRIBLE.

I’m not falsely modest, so you can be assured that if I say it was terrible, it was. But I was really actually happy about it, because I tried something that was so different and hard for me that I couldn’t quite figure it out – AND I stuck with it to the very end of the scene (sorry again, Bill).

My second outing fared slightly better because I tried to just slow down a perky type of character. So the energy was there, and yet she wasn’t super fast. It worked, but it wasn’t much of a departure for me since the physicality and the tone of voice were essentially mine. I did manage to slow down the flapping hands, though. So it was a step towards what I was going for. You know, a really small, stumbly step.

The good news about being me is that I also take the Level 3 class on Friday mornings. So with last night’s debacle still fresh in my mind, along with the helpful notes Darren gave me, I tried again to do a slower character – but I made sure to give her a strong point of view and some intensity to up the energy level and the stakes. I had a different voice – deeper and slower than my real voice – and kind of chest-out, alpha posture.

This was nowhere near the best, most interesting character in the history of improv. Or even in the history of today’s improv class. But it illustrates my point, which is that failing big by trying something hard is the only way to learn. And the entire point of improv class is to LEARN. You can show off on your own time; class is about doing the stuff you’re NOT already good at and about helping your classmates do the same by giving them 100% commitment and support every time.

And just to be clear, the only way to actually fail in an improv class is to not commit. Give it your all and, whether it technically “works” or not, you’ve succeeded.

You know. Like life.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Ahhhh, another improv class to look forward to tonight. Tonight I get to take a class, which is fun in a whole different way from teaching a class.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

I Like Your Hair. You Can Be My Friend.

I posted a “Happy Monday” post on FB today, and somebody asked what was wrong with me. It’s a fair question, and one that I get a lot. In this case, however, I would argue that there’s nothing wrong with me.

I know that’s gonna require some explanation, so hang on while I get my thoughts in order…

See, I was thinking about improv and kids. Not kids doing improv, which is something I encourage but is not something I’m speaking about at the moment. I was thinking that kids, until they go to school anyway, totally grasp being in the moment.

They don’t pre-plan what they’re gonna say – when they want a cookie, they just announce they want a friggin’ cookie. When someone speaks to them, they respond to what that person just said, with whatever response comes to them and without editing it and censoring it to death. When they don’t like what someone says or does to them, they have a HUGE emotional reaction – again, without self-censoring.


Of course, I’m not saying we want to play kids in improv scenes. What I’m suggesting is that we might considering playing like kids in improv scenes. You can totally start a scene with, “LOOK BILLY!! I finished the report!! Yay!! Woohoo!” with high-fives all around. You can respond to your partner with foot stomping, pouting and a teary, “But I HATE spending the holidays with your family.” You can walk right up to your scene partner and stroke their hair and say, “I like your hair. You can be my friend.”

Anyway, the Happy Monday post was what made me think about being in the moment. Sure, if I think ahead to the busy week, maybe I’ll freak out; but if I just focus on the fact that I woke up this morning and now I get to write some stuff, of course it’s a happy Monday. And then I thought about how easy it is for toddlers to do squats. And then that made me think that toddlers don’t care if it’s Monday when they do their squats and ta-da! Here we are.

Now I’m gonna have a cookie. Because all this talk about doing squats has made me hungry, and that’s just how I roll.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Eye Contact and Unicorn Magic

A brand-new Held2gether improv class started today, which I swear is always even more exciting for me than it is for the students.

It’s not because I have a boring life, either. I have a very exciting life. This week, for example, I did handstands without help. I mean, come on! That’s living on the edge, people.

Anyway, let me explain why I’m excited by a new class (as if you really have a choice). It’s because I love to see people start off a little unsure – sometimes even downright terrified – and morph into having a great time… while they’re learning stuff.

It’s also because I see things in new groups of people that reinforce my understanding of improv and deepen it in the way only beginners can. For example, in a “yes, and” exercise today, I saw the best example of the importance of eye contact I’ve ever seen. When the exercise got a little struggly, both participants just stayed in it and made good, solid (though not creepy) eye contact with each other, which calmed them down and helped them get right back on track. I’ve seen it before, a million times, but this was just such a clear example because there was nothing else going on in the exercise that could account for the renewed calm and ability to move forward.

Eye contact is a skill whose importance can’t be overstated in improv (and in life, really), and yet it’s difficult to communicate the why behind it. Largely because it’s controlled by unicorn magic. When you are in your head, stuck, confused, unsure, self-conscious, whatever, eye contact WILL help. Not just CAN help. WILL.

When you make eye contact with your partner, you’re communicating non-verbally; you’re putting your trust in them and allowing them to trust you. You are making a conscious choice to get on the same page, work together as a team and surrender your agenda. And when you do all that, the unicorns are happy and they reward you with a hilarious scene.

And that, my friends, is the secret of improv. You’re welcome.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

ADHD, Anyone?

Boy, do I need an improv class tonight! Luckily, I get to have one. And another tomorrow morning. Yay for me!

Even though improv has taught me so much about being in the moment and just staying present and focused on the one thing I’m doing at any given moment, some days I’m still like the poster child for ADHD or something. Today is that day.

It’s one of those weeks where I had big stuff to do – like deadlines and whatnot – for ALL of the various jobs I have. And none of those things played along with the pre-planning and agenda-ing I had done. Servers being down on the other side of the world interfered with my idea of what I thought I would do and when, which meant I had to adapt. People giving me misinformation about meeting times meant I had to adapt. The bloody f*ing heat meant I had to adapt.

That’s all well and good, up to a point. I have also learned in improv how to adapt and go with the flow, and that portion of my training kicked in just swell and I flowed from one thing to the next if not effortlessly, at least successfully.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t just be in the moment. Because of the constant adapting, I was running through 8 gazillion scenarios in my head of what I would do to make up for snafu #31, for example, and I didn’t put proper attention on the task I was currently involved with. Three separate times today, I went the wrong way on the way to places I’ve been literally hundreds of times. I was thinking about what I was going to do after that particular errand and missed my exit, turned the wrong way or just plain drove right past my destination. Did I mention three times? Jeez.

Anyway, it’s all good. All the whatnots got dealt with, I didn’t get permanently lost and I see the humor in my folly. But I also see that the week would’ve been a lot more enjoyable and a lot less stressful if I hadn’t let myself spin out, and that makes me want to work harder at just being in the moment.

So I will. You can, too, if you want. I won’t make you, though – I wouldn’t want to force my agenda.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

1 2 3 4