By Darren Held

The Self-Censoring Monster

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Self-censoring sucks. Just sayin’. One of the hardest parts of teaching improv is watching people beat themselves up – figuratively, of course – before any words have even left their mouths.

The Self-Censoring Monster

Not everyone is plagued by the self-censoring monster, of course. But many are, and it makes me cringe to see someone’s eyes light up when they have an idea, and in the split second it takes for that idea to travel from their brain to their mouth, watch the light go out, a grimace appear, a shrug happen – and no words actually emerge.

Obviously, everyone’s experience is different, and I don’t know if people have had others shoot down their ideas so much that they’re embarrassed to even HAVE an idea, or if they are so super critical of themselves that every idea that pops into their head would have to be as brilliant as the Gettysburg Address in order for them to be okay with it, but something has happened to make them judge their ideas so much that if they manage to articulate them, the apology for the idea is bundled into the same sentence. And more often than not, they don’t even spit out the idea in the first place.

I Accept

One of the wonderful things about improv is that every idea MUST be accepted. The basic premise of “yes, and” means that I have absolutely no choice but to accept your idea. Not only do I have to accept it, but I have to contribute to it! Sometimes it takes weeks or even months of encouragement and coaxing, but eventually, students come to the realization that no idea is going to be shot down, rejected, ridiculed or otherwise negatively judged. Every idea will be accepted, acted on, explored, expanded, delved into – and when that happens, students start to feel more confident having ideas and even saying them out loud.

And then I get to see their eyes light up… and stay lit up, instead of being instantly extinguished by the self-censoring monster. Yay!

By Darren Held

Yes, and Here’s My Specific Information

by Sonnjea Blackwell

One of the things I try to do as an improv instructor is make it as easy as possible for my students to start making good habits. I know, duh, right? But in all seriousness, it’s so much easier to teach people to make strong choices from the beginning than to help them overcome bad habits down the road.

“Yes, and” is, of course, the cornerstone of improvisation. And it’s as brilliantly simple as accepting what your scene partner has offered, and adding something to it. And yet, like most things that are brilliant in their simplicity, it is also ridiculously complicated. Do I, as an improvisor, have to agree with their character’s moral stand? What if I would never actually eat a puppy for dinner? And on and on.

Something I hit upon last week, just in time to teach the famous yes, and I/yes, and you exercise to a brand new group of untainted improv students, was the fact that people frequently “yes, and” the broad concept of a scene, rather than the specific information contained in the scene. And it’s the specific information that we want to build on.

So for this particular “yes, and” exercise, I had the students add a bit of information that tied DIRECTLY to the other person’s last bit of information. So if one student said, “Yes, and you got in your car,” the second student had to yes, and that specific information with something like, “Yes, and I put the key in the ignition” as opposed to a larger leap like, “Yes, and I drove to the store.” The results were amazing, and the students had a lot of fun taking those little bitty steps.

Naturally, in an actual scene, you aren’t going to belabor tiny minutiae like that. But by doing the exercise in this way, the students got off to a really excellent start of listening acutely to each tiny bit of information their partner gave, as well as making that tiny thing the important item they added on to.

So I guess my point is, it’s never to early (or too late) to make listening well your goal in an improv scene, and letting the little stuff be the big stuff.

By Darren Held

Centipede v. Scorpion

by Sonnjea Blackwell

You know how a centipede can grab onto a scorpion and just hold on until the scorpion dies?

Yeah, me neither. Apparently that happens, though, and a teacher used it to make an analogy which I found useful and which I will now share. Because I’m a giver.

Hey! Information! Oh, Never Mind…

There is a tendency in improv scenes for somebody to throw out an interesting bit of information that the other person then brushes aside. Or sometimes the other person yes, ands the information nicely, and then the person who came up with the information to begin with brushes it aside. The point is, most of the time, we don’t latch onto that bit of information and play it out to its logical conclusion. Which means, in order for the scene to keep moving, we have to keep coming up with OTHER bits of information.

A stronger approach is to grab onto that bit of information like a centipede grabs onto a scorpion, and don’t let it go. Explore the concept that your obsession with beverages is consuming your life and affecting our current relationship. Use your location to further the concept – find other types of beverages and let them come between us, become distraught that there are no more beverages, blame me for the lack of beverages, whatever. Remember that the scene is about US and our relationship, but explore that beverage obsession and its impact on us (good or bad) before letting that naturally segue on to something else.

If you remember to make that very first thing important, choose to have really high stakes, and don’t let it go, there will be no need to trot out 347 different weird bits of information. The scene only needs to be about one thing. Might as well save yourselves some time and effort and let it be the first thing.

By Darren Held

Anxiety About Improv? Awesome!

And now a word (well, a few hundred words) from our Fearless Leader, Darren Held! Yay!

About three days a week, I wake up with a pang of anxiety about starting my day. What could happen, and what if it doesn’t go the way the film reel is running in my head? And what will people say about me when they see me in this state? Then I look to my cat, Moto, for answers. As usual, she is confident and self-consumed. Not much help. All this thinking and trying to change my anxiety usually makes things worse. Yet inevitably, once I start doing the numerous things running through my head, I’m fine. I’m present. I’m enjoying the productivity.

It’s Not Too Late…

I remember how anxious I used to get in my early improv classes. I’d be on the highway headed to L.A., watching every exit, thinking “You can still turn back and go home, it’s not too late”. Perhaps I’d had a bad day and thought it would be best not to share my freaky energy with everyone. Then I’d get to class, waiting my turn to go on stage, and I’d be eyeing the door (“It’s not too late, you can still slip out”). But you know what? I didn’t. And once I finally got on stage, I used that anxiety to my benefit. And that is a beautiful thing about improv comedy.

Energy, no matter where it’s stemming from, is energy. And energy is king in improv. So taking your anxiety and transferring it into a character can offer great richness to a scene. You can take your shaky, anxious self on stage and create an anxious character, and guess what – people will believe it! Because you are inhabiting the truth of that character. As long as your neurotic character reacts to the information in the scene through that point of view. Expressing that much needed emotion can also be extremely cathartic, and about $105 less per hour than a good shrink.

Energy Is Energy

When you don’t want people to notice your nerves, you stuff it down. Stuffing the energy down gets you in your head and makes things worse. You don’t always have to play anxious – you can use those nerves to create someone who is elated, horrifically depressed, or outrageously horny. Any of those grand feelings work when you realize that energy is just energy, and let it work for you.

You may even want to try it at the dentist.

By Darren Held

By Darren Held

The Best Day

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Tomorrow is the first day of a brand-new Held2gether Level 1 Improv Class, which means tomorrow is also the best day EVER for 16 unsuspecting folks.

No, I’m not that full of myself. But I am that convinced of the power of improv to transform people’s lives. Whatever else is happening for those 16 people this week, tomorrow night they will find the courage to show up to their first improv class, make the choice to be completely silly in front of complete strangers, and discover that they can do stuff they’ve never done before – and may have never thought they could do. They will laugh and be amazed at how simple and yet how freakin’ hard everything is. They’ll figure out that they don’t listen as well as they thought… or that they listen way better than they gave themselves credit for. They’ll start learning how to work better as a team, without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. They’ll learn to trust themselves and others more, and they’ll feel what it’s like when a whole roomful of people trusts them. They’ll laugh and laugh… and some of them will really play for the first time since they were children.

Now do you see why I’m so in love with my job? Who wouldn’t want to witness that kind of magic every 6 weeks or so?

In case you’re not in on the magic just yet, there are classes starting all the time – including this coming Saturday.

1 2 3