By Darren Held

Eye Contact: Good. Sonnjea’s Brain: Bad.

Eye contact is a tricky thing. Not enough, and people will think you’re a shifty-eyed-lying-used-car-salesman type. Too much, and people will get a restraining order. It’s even trickier in improv, where it’s the main mechanism for getting two or more people out of their own heads and onto the same page.

Researchers have done studies on the involuntary eye movements people make when they are thinking. Looking up or down, left or right, all serve a purpose in terms of accessing information stored in our brains. For example, I was just stuck for a word, and I looked up and to the left. Which is, you know, the spot on my wall where I keep lists of words. But that’s a whole other thing.

The problem, as it applies to improv, is that when I look anywhere in an attempt to access information in my brain, I am only looking IN MY BRAIN. Those of you who know me realize what a small place that is to look. But even if my brain held as much information as Albert Einstein, it’s a crappy place to look for improv-y information.

Looking in your own brain is a recipe for sticking to an agenda. Sorry, you can argue with me till the cows come home and couch it in whatever terms you like, but you won’t convince me otherwise. If you think the information in your head (your agenda) is what you need, you’re not trusting the process to provide the information that the scene needs.

The only way to connect with your scene partner(s) and let go of your agenda is to look them square in the eyes and take time to let that connection form. Then you aren’t looking in YOUR brain and they aren’t looking in THEIR brain, but you are both looking in the UNIFIED brain you’ve magically created.

I honestly don’t know if there have been studies on this type of magical eye contact or not. Speaking as a person who had to work very hard to learn to make eye contact, I can attest to the almost indescribable difference it makes in improv. Honestly, just in the comfort level alone, it’s worth it – if you’re ever feeling alone and exposed onstage, make eye contact with your partner. Bam! Now you’re not one of X number of people on stage, you are part of a larger collective with the same goals and objectives.

Well, now it just sounds creepy and Borg-y. But I think you get my point. Eye contact: good.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

By Darren Held

Which Came First: the Chicken or the Self-Esteem?

I have reasonably high self-esteem, in case you were wondering. Whatever. Self-esteem, like confidence, is more of an inner state of being than a reflection of actual, tangible achievements.

Yes, yes. This is going to be about improv, I swear.

First, and most obvious, is that improv can help improve self-esteem. When you discover you aren’t constrained by made-up limits or afraid of being in the gray area of not knowing, it builds your self-esteem and confidence.

Second, and something I just learned, is that improv can help you identify those areas where your self-esteem is lacking. Friggin’ yay.

The against type exercise on Friday got me to do some deep thinking about why “sexy” is so frequently against type for me (although this time they went with the more generic “girly girl”). The truth is, I don’t do sexy characters because I just don’t see myself that way. And yes, I get that it’s a character. And no, I don’t see myself as a swamp-dwelling redneck, or a cavewoman or most of the other characters I’ve played in improv. So what’s the deal with the sexy thing?

Then I remembered what Eddie Cardoza said to me in 7th grade. I’ve received worse insults since then, but I’ve never forgotten his. He said, “You look like you traded legs with a chicken and lost your ass in the deal.” In his defense, that was a fairly accurate description. But when you are a weirdly skinny, gangly adolescent with too-long limbs and no boobs, the no-ass/chicken leg assessment hits a little too close to home to laugh off.

And I realized that some part of my self-perception hasn’t progressed since that time, and the idea of the no-ass/chicken leg chick trying to pull off sexy would just be so far-fetched that a) there’s no point in making the audience work that hard, and b) if they did laugh, it would be because they were laughing AT me (and not in the good way.)

ARGHHHH. When it just seemed like I preferred other types of characters and was content to leave sexy to those more qualified to play it, I was okay with the choice. Now that I see it’s a subconscious limit I’ve placed on myself and that I don’t do it because I don’t have any particular self-esteem in that area, I have no choice but to bust through it. So, great… one more thing to add to my to-do list. That’s how it is with improv, you know. You learn that you don’t have to live with limitations, which means if you are living with limitations it’s because you’ve chosen to. I don’t choose to.

Ready to bust through YOUR limitations? H2g improv classes are starting at the end of October – sign up soon, cuz they always fill up!

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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