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!