By Darren Held

Cooking vs. Baking

by Sonnjea Blackwell

A bunch of us were hanging out after the sketch comedy show Saturday night, and we got to talking about the concept of improv vs. sketch.

People had differing opinions, and weirdly some of them didn’t share my (obviously correct) opinion that improv wins. The sketch people like the fact that sketch is more like doing a play, that they have time to re-write and re-write to get their lines perfect, and that they get to dress up in costumes. The improv folks like the thrill of being in the moment, creating something spontaneously with their scene partner and the greater sense of “play” that improv provides.

But troupie Sean Fannon had the best analogy I’ve heard, which I’m gonna share with you now. He likened improv vs. sketch to cooking vs. baking.

In cooking, you can wing it. You can try a little of this and a little of that, you can adjust things to taste, you can correct a “mistake” by adding a dash of something to balance it. Baking, on the other had, is chemistry. It’s precise and measured and there is no room for flexibility or going with the flow.

Improv, then, is cooking. It’s free and exciting and you can adjust it in the moment. You start with a suggestion, but you’re never exactly sure what the end result will be until you get there. If you’re not bold enough, the end result is bland. But sometimes you go overboard, and that’s when things get burned. If you do it right, there’s risk involved.

Sketch is baking. You know precisely how it’s supposed to turn out, and if you deviate from the recipe, you won’t get what you were hoping for. There’s no particular risk and, as long as you follow the recipe, you end up with something yummy.

Neither one is better or worse. We all like food, and we all like dessert.

Of course, we need food to live. Nobody calls us “sketch for life,” do they? I’m just sayin’.

By Darren Held

In the Moment

by Sonnjea Blackwell

The other night was the last session of the Level 1 Improv Class for the year, and we did a little Q & A at the end, like we usually do on the last night. One question in particular wanted to be a blog topic. And, you know, who am I to stand in the way of questions’ desires?

A lady asked, “So, when a scene isn’t going the way you want it to, you still have to agree with it and let it go that way?”

This is an excellent question, and there are two answers. The first one is the short answer, and it goes like this:


The long answer goes like this:

Of course, you must always “yes, and” whatever information has come out in your scene and not do anything to derail it. You can’t deny, or say “yes, but” to change the direction. First information out, wins. That’s what you go with.

But more importantly, you should not have any notion of what way you want the scene to go. None. The extent of what you want to have in your head at the start of your scene is what character you are. THAT. IS. ALL. Everything else should develop in the moment and in response to what your scene partner says and does. You are creating something TOGETHER out of thin air, and neither of you is in charge, so you really want to try to let go of any agenda or idea of what you think should happen.

This means being in the moment and listening. You can’t be in the moment or listen if you are thinking ahead. Also, to be clear, listening means paying attention and actually taking in ALL of what your scene partner is saying, not just the parts that dovetail with what you want to have happen. We’re all good at hearing what we want to hear; improv depends on you hearing everything.

And yes, before you start yelling at me, I know it’s hard to listen, and not plan ahead and all that. It’s scary to intentionally free your mind from plans and goals and just go with the flow. But I never said improv was easy, now, did I? Nope. I said it’s simple. But it’s most definitely not easy. That’s what makes it fun.

And yeah, all that same stuff would make getting through the day in your real life that much better also. I’m just sayin’.

By Darren Held

If You’re Not Eating a Banana, You Should Be Making Eye Contact

by Sonnjea Blackwell

We had a party this weekend, some of my improv homies and me, and we played some drunken improv games. Because that’s just how we roll.

So anyway, we started by playing One Word Story, which is a game we play the very first day of Level 1. Everybody gets in a circle, and we tell a story about some silly thing – but each person only gets to say one word. It’s about listening and letting go of any agenda and making eye contact.

I literally have no recollection what the story was about this weekend, but I do remember somebody didn’t make eye contact with the next person in the circle. She hesitated, looked up at the ceiling – and I hollered, “MAKE EYE CONTACT!”

Yeah, I’m a lot of fun at parties.

But then she DID make eye contact with the next person in the circle, and she said a word that made total sense and the story kept going. Yay!

The point of this story is less about me being some kind of weird uptight improv drill sergeant and more about the fact that, even drunk, I know how important eye contact is. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen somebody struggling to think of something – anything – to say, and when I remind them to make eye contact, they look into their scene partner’s eyes and just instantaneously know what to say.

So much communication happens in the eyes. Sometimes you look at your scene partner, and you realize that they’re truly there with you and you know everything is going to be okay. Sometimes, it’s almost like you’re psychic… you look in their eyes, and you suddenly know what they’re thinking so you go with it. Other times you look at each other and realize you both have literally NO idea what’s about to happen and you’re excited to see what you create together.

Eye contact is scary, I know – trust me, it was very difficult for me to learn it. It’s revealing and intimate and makes you vulnerable. And yet, paradoxically, it’s accepting and gives you courage and strength. And you can’t do good improv without it. So there’s that.

(And for what it’s worth, I didn’t critique anybody’s drunk improv. I’m not THAT girl…)

By Darren Held

Don’t Fix My Problems!

by Sonnjea Blackwell

There’s an interesting paradox in improv… well, probably more than one. But I’m gonna limit myself to one for tonight, because I have some TV shows that need watching.

So tonight’s paradox is this: in real life, taking care of someone’s problems would make you a good friend, whereas in improv, taking care of someone’s problems can make you a lousy scene partner.

The thing is, your scene has to have a “what,” meaning it has to be about something that’s happening between you and your scene partner that makes today a big day. Ultimately we want to find out how this what affects your relationship. And often, a big “what” happens right away… only to be brushed aside by a well-meaning problem solver. Kinda like this:

“OH NO!!! You typed all the reports wrong! Now I’m going to get fired!”
“It’s okay, I explained it to the boss. You get to keep your job!”

In real life, YAY YOU! In improv life, ARGH!

Now we have to come up with ANOTHER big “what.” And, should you be really adept at problem solving, another… and another… until your time is up and your scene never became about anything. A stronger choice would be:

“OH NO!!! You typed all the reports wrong! Now I’m going to get fired!”
“Here, let me fix them… OOPS!” (And then spill coffee in the computer, ruining any hope of anyone fixing them.) Or, you know, something unhelpful.

Most of the folks I’ve met in improv have been super nice, friendly, helpful and responsible. They have a tendency to want to make people feel better, solve problems and smooth ruffled feathers. But to do good improv, you have to resist those urges. Fan the flames by making people feel worse, creating problems and plucking feathers!

Of course, it’s best if you go back to your mild-mannered self after your scene is over, otherwise you might find yourself without any real-life friends. And that would be sad.

By Darren Held

What the Hell, It’s November?

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Before you yell at me for being lazy and not writing anything for you to read, let me just say this: I know. I am one lazy-ass chick.

They say knowing the problem is half the battle. We’ll see.

Anyway, as you may have noticed, it’s friggin’ November already, which means a whole lot of interesting stuff is happening in the world of H2G. And because I hate being the only person who knows stuff, I’ma share the happenings with you, my peeps.

  1. First of all, there’s a 1/2-day Intro to Improv Workshop THIS Sunday, Nov. 10 from noon to 4. All the deets are at the website, which I courteously linked to for you. Cause that’s just how I roll.
  2. Next up, To Sketch a Thief, our latest sketch comedy show is Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23. These shows are the culmination of a super fun sketch writing and performance class, and they’re always a hoot!
  3. Then there are the Holiday Drop-ins! These are four individual classes for anyone who has completed Level 1… Each class has a particular focus (which you can read on the website). Pre-register for all 4 and save money that you can use to buy my Christmas present!
  4. And finally, there is our fundraiser performance on December 14th. It’s Home2gether, an improv comedy show to benefit St. Luke’s Homeless Shower Program. This show is gonna be so much fun, because it’s everybody from BOTH Held2gether troupes performing all together.

That’s about it, until the new sessions start in January. But we have a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes and exciting changes for the new year… like did you know that beginning in January, our classes will be eight entire weeks long? Yup, we’re expanding classes from 6 weeks to 8… more improvy fun to look forward to!

You’re welcome.