By Darren Held

Well, That Sucked…

See, I’m not the only one who does improv:sports analogies! Check out Beth Cunningham’s thoughts!

My worst improv scene to date was during a performance and it was going so poorly that I felt like I was dying on stage…”death by improv” if you will. Everything went wrong…confusion…denial…odd information…to survive, I was pulling out every emotional reaction in the book, barely treading water; I was just trying to get through it and be clapped out. I wish that I could say I used my sucky-ness as fuel to do better in my next show scene…but I didn’t. I let it get to me, self-hated, and had a very off night.

We’ve all been there before. Sometimes an improv scene is magical—like the stars aligned and the scene is simply golden…and other times…it sucks.
A wise improv guru once told me that improv is like baseball; it’s impossible to bat 1.000 and if you’re batting .500 you’re doing damn spectacular. Just like in baseball—each “at bat” you potentially could strikeout or hit it out of the park. And some days, you’re just going to have to settle for bunting.

The point is this—in improv, you WILL strike out…a lot…but the last sucky scene is not an indicator of how well your next scene will go, nor does it demonstrate your worth as an improviser. Just like when I watch a Red Sox game; I’ll see David Ortiz strikeout at his first at bat, and then hit a home run later in the game. It’s important to be able to say to yourself “well, that sucked”, and after that… move on. Acknowledge the sucky-ness…evaluate why you had a suckish scene…learn from it…but then…Brush. It. Off. Because, truthfully, we all have those scenes that suck from time to time and that’s ok!

By Darren Held

Dear Improv

Dear Improv,

I’ve been meaning to write you for a while, but I guess it’s true that we take things for granted when we shouldn’t. If I’ve never said it before, thanks for being such a big part of my life. When we met, I figured it would just be a one-time thing. A few laughs here, a few giggles there. But look at us, still going strong.

I don’t mean to get all mushy, but you opened up my life in ways I didn’t expect. You looked intriguing and interesting when I put down my money, but I had no idea how much you would change me. You knocked down many of my barriers. You made me less afraid. You took me to new places and introduced me to wonderful people. You taught me how to be in the moment. Shoot, people go to years of therapy for that and don’t have nearly as much fun as we’ve had.

Improv, what I’m trying to say is that I love you. Thanks for giving me so much and asking for so little — and everything — in return. I don’t know what I’d be without you.


P.S. I know I can be the jealous type, but I totally don’t mind if you see other people.

*In this case “me” refers to a non-Sonnjea blogger who prefers to remain anonymous.

By Darren Held

Painting with an Audience

Aimee LaRue is very wise. You should listen to her and stuff:

Self-evaluation. It’s a pretty standard part of being a person. You do something, you look back, you decide whether or not it was a good experience or bad experience, whether you made good or bad decisions, whether it’s worth doing again. It’s a good way to navigate through life and move forward from those experiences that were not so great.

When it comes to the creative side of life, self-evaluation and –critique become very important, especially if what we create is displayed for others to see. As an improviser, my craft is put out there for the audience to watch without much chance to filter and edit. The scene starts, with the parameters and suggestions provided, and we build our art, line by line, right in front of the audience. It would be like a painter given a small amount of time to paint a picture without any visual reference, a vague suggestion or two to give the painter a direction to start, and then they paint in front of a live audience until someone else tells the painter they’re done. While this seems like a ridiculous situation, it is, to a degree, what an improviser goes through every time they go on stage. Just like a painter can study their craft for years, we prepare ourselves with the rules (to refresh your memory: agreement, commitment, information) and training so that these improv foundations are second nature, so when we are on stage we don’t have to check off these basic things in our minds before carrying on with the scene, and we can focus on creating an interesting and (hopefully) funny scene for our lovely audience.

At every Held2Gether show, we take video of the performance. I’ve had many audience members ask what we do with these videos, sometimes asking if they would be able to get a copy of a particularly great night. While we would love to spread the Held2Gether love and get our shows out there in that crazy interweb-iverse (coming soon we hope!), the primary use of these videos is for us improvisers so we can review and critique our performance. We can take a look back at our scenes and get a better idea of why a scene was successful and why another scene struggled. This is extremely helpful to us since we are performing off the cuff and don’t have the time or opportunity to really do any self-editing during a scene.

However, as is truly stereotypical of the artistic type, we can tend to over analyze and be overly critical of ourselves when a performance is finished. I can’t tell you how many times after a show I’ve gone over and over each of my scenes in my mind and thought about all the ways I could have done better. (I am going to take this moment to say that I only do this kind of over analyzing to my own performance; my fellow Held2Gether performers are perfect and it is not humanly possible for any of them to make a mistake during a scene) However, while I have been with the troupe for two years now (TWO YEARS! I can’t believe it!), I have come to the realization that I cannot be trusted when it comes to the evaluation of my own performance. I’ve been told countless times from my talented troupe-mates and from our loving and incredibly supportive audience how much they enjoyed the show and that they loved this scene and that line was so funny and… you get the idea. I’ve come to realize that as important as self-evaluation is, when it comes to what we do as improvisers we can’t totally rely on it. I’ve felt terrible after a show, feeling like to couldn’t do anything right on stage, only to hear the opposite from everyone else who was not in the scene with me, and even them too, that the show was great. So, instead of arguing with them on all the reasons why they couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to my involvement in the show, I agree (like a good improviser) and say Thank You. THANK YOU!

By Darren Held

They Just Wanna… They Just Wanna

Mr. Sean Fannon has some very serious thoughts on a very serious subject: having fun.

It is not only girls and Goonies in the 80s that want to have fun. We all want tooo haaave fuuuuhhh-uuun. True: I’m not writing about super technical improvy stuff, I am going to write about having fun. Although as with other posts (Sonnjea disclaimer*), please always remember to keep the basics top of mind. Like in the forefront of your brain, like right there always on the tip of your cranium.

I have a confession. I do improv as a cheaper form of mental therapy. Seriously, I’d be fine going to classes just to watch others perform and laugh. Very voyeur I know, but it helps to dissolve the gunk that builds up over the course of the day on my gray matter. It helps me relax. And when I’m relaxed, it’s easier to just have fun.

OOOOOhhh Seans just want to have fah-unnn!

Where was I?

When I tell people, I have improv rehearsal they always ask – and I mean always – “Why are you rehearsing? I thought you were just supposed to make it up?” Well yes, we are but we need to have the basics down first, like quit asking questions. If not, scenes will not have the structure to build a funny house of haha, lol, chortles and rofl.

Over the years, the most memorable performances have been when the troupe is just having fun. We practice improv so we don’t have to think about all the basics. There will most likely always be the pre-performance jitters, but on stage being relaxed and just having fun will shine through with the audience. The audience can tell when you are having a good time and it puts them at ease as well. They are more open to receive the big laughs you have been building up to over the last 2-minute scene.

So did I blow your mind? Probably not. But just remember to have fun. Improv is meant to be enjoyed, not something that should be stressful or worrisome. Just have fun and the rest of the audience will have fun with you.

*Not really a disclaimer by Sonnjea. That was a Sean disclaimer pre-empting Sonnjea’s need to have a disclaimer. Sonnjea is entirely disclaimerless with regards to this blog post. ~ Sonnjea