By Darren Held

Sing, Sing a Song, Sing Out Loud…

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Wayne Brady is awesome at song improv. Sonnjea Blackwell is not. It’s okay. I’m sure I have some talent that he doesn’t have, so we’ll call it even.

The thing is, though, that Held2gether has been delving into some musical improvy stuff, which is WAAAAAYYYYY far out of my comfort zone. I’m devoid of rhythm, I can’t keep a beat, and rhyming is not my forte. So when we did our show Saturday night, which included several musical numbers, I was scurred.

But then something interesting happened. I screwed up (not a major screw up, but a screw up nonetheless) and nobody seemed to notice; in any event, it didn’t throw anybody else off. Not only that, but I paid attention to the audience and learned an important lesson – one that I’ve learned about eleventy billion times, but that I seem to need to learn over and over and over – which was that commitment trumps everything. EVERYTHING. I don’t care how bad you fuck up your song, if you sing it like you own it, like it’s the best thing EVER… the audience loves it.

Commitment, for those of you who are unsure, is not the same as energy or being “big.” Commitment means being wholeheartedly on your own side, fully invested in your character, your scene, your song, and NOT judging it. Never look like you feel bad about what’s coming out of your mouth, because then the audience feels bad for you and that’s an uncomfortable feeling for them. They want to feel super excited for you, which is how they will feel if you belt out a song with enthusiasm and gusto – even if (sometimes especially if) you come in on the wrong count, screw up the rhyme or forget the chorus. Or all of the above.

I tell people when we do “Spotlight” (the singing warmup that everyone loves to hate) to sing like they’re alone in their car or doing drunk karaoke – and that is how you have to do song improv.

I don’t think that song improv will ever be my strong suit. But if I can consistently have fun with it and let the audience see that, it doesn’t have to be my nemesis, either. Anyway, I already have a nemesis. Its name is puppet improv…

By Darren Held

Change Is Good!

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Holy crap, have we been busy! We did an improv show that raised a bunch of money and brought in a bunch of clothing for a terrific local charity that helps the homeless. We added three new members to our performance troupe (welcome to the H2G family, Emily Formentini, Richard Martinez and Chris Moore)! We added new shows and new venues to our upcoming show schedule. We are expanding our classes from 6 weeks to 8. And we have a brand-new Held2gether website!

I need a nap.

Anyway, you can check out the website for all the details on upcoming classes and shows… And don’t freak out about the changes. Change is good.

By Darren Held

5 Words: Make ‘Em Count

by Sonnjea Blackwell

I don’t know about you, but I like it when my ideas turn out to be good ones. I’ve had a couple ideas over the years that haven’t panned out, and I have to say I like those less.

Anyway, I taught the drop-in improv class the other night, and my theme for the evening was on information and justification, primarily. And I had this idea, based on my observations of students in my classes as well as other classes – not to mention my own experience – that the more words an improvisor uses, the more likely it is their scene will become casual, “talky,” and conversational.

Of course, in improv, you want your scene to be about your relationship and what’s happening today that’s different from other days. What’s the “big what?” So if today is so freakin’ important, shouldn’t the words be important? Of course they should. That was a rhetorical question.

So I came up with the idea to do regular 2-person scenes, but with the catch that EACH line of dialogue could contain no more than five words. My thought was that, with so few words at their disposal, students would cut to the heart of the matter, eliminating the chit-chat. And I knew that counting words would make them a bit heady, so I suggested using that time to add information in other ways – through physicality, emotion, spacework and using the stage picture.

It worked GREAT. Scenes were about relationship, people got to the big “what” in one or two lines, the facial expressions, physicality and emotions were through the roof. Everything I expected.

But then a student explained what it felt like to do the scene, and I realized the exercise had an added benefit I hadn’t expected. She said that only being able to say five words was helpful to her because it cut down on the options, and that only having to hear five words at a time made it much easier for her to process her scene partner’s information and figure out what was important and what she should respond to.

That’s brilliant, and I hadn’t even thought of it in those terms. But I know sometimes I have a tendency to overtalk, and I realize now that not only does that make what I say more casual and less important, but it makes it difficult for my scene partner to process all that information.

As I said in class, it’s how you say what you say, more than how much you say. I’m going to endeavor to be a better scene partner by limiting my lines to as few words as possible. Maybe you wanna try it with me?

By Darren Held

Boogie Shoes

My friend, neighbor and troupemate, Tracy Araujo has some stuff to say…


Last night was the first night of my “Beginning” Adult Musical Theater Dance class. The problem was it was not for beginners like me. It’s an ongoing class and, even though last night was the first night of class, the same people had been in this class for months and already knew a lot more “dance” than I did. In fact, they were 3 weeks into a choreographed dance routine! I was the only one who had no idea what was going on. The teacher told me to “follow along the best you can.” My “best” was pretty bad.

In the middle of class, I made up my mind that I didn’t belong here and told myself I’d never come back. I was even a little bit angry that the class was considered a “beginners” class when everyone obviously had known each other for a while and had way more dance experience than I did.

Then it dawned on me that this is how a brand new person starting improv must feel. Not knowing anyone, kind of lost, and surrounded by people who know each other and have obviously been taking improv for a while. It’s very intimidating and can make even normally calm people like myself extremely uncomfortable.

But, I’ve decided to stick it out with the dance class. Know why? The people. The teacher, as well as the other women in the class, were wonderful. They made me feel more than welcome, constantly encouraged me, and when I actually did something right, they all said “yay!” At the end of class, a couple of the women said “We’ll see you next week, right? Don’t be discouraged! We’re all still learning.”

That’s how improv is too, and that’s why people keep coming back – because they are made to feel welcome and that, even though they have no idea what they’re doing in the very first class, our wonderful teachers as well as the wonderful returning students wholeheartedly support EVERYONE, no matter how silly and self-conscious they may feel at first. Since Sonnjea is now the first face any new student sees in H2G improv classes, she’s the person that a new student will remember most and will probably make the decision to return to classes based on how she made them feel in their very first class. And if I recall correctly, a whole lotta Sonnjea’s students are now in levels 2 and 3 so she’s definitely doing something right.

I’ve been taking improv classes for going on 3 years now and a compliment in my level 1 class is still just as satisfying as a compliment in my level 3 class. H2G is a wonderful group that makes people feel good about themselves, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

I’m off to buy some new dance shoes now.

by Tracy Araujo