By Darren Held

Let It Go, Let It Go

So, you can see I’ve been remiss in writing blog posts lately, so my troupemates have agreed to help me out by doing my job for me. Yay! You can see their thoughts on improv and life and other stuff right here!

Thanks to Richard Martinez for this terrific post!

I took my first class with Held2gether in February of 2012. I remember feeling really nervous, because I associated “Improv” with “funny” and I never really considered myself to be a funny performer.

Prior to H2G, I performed theatre on stage in which the characters I played were rooted in heavy drama. And honestly, I kind of thrived on that. I let all my personal struggles (from the day-to-day work stress to the heavier issues I’ve battled) find so-called release through playing characters that screamed, yelled, cried, raged, ranted, and screamed some more. As cathartic as that was in the moment of performance, it never really helped me to let go of what I needed to let go of in my personal life. That release was only temporary, and my life hadn’t necessarily improved because of it.

The only way to affect positive change in my life was to take a good, long look at the darkness and drama that I was coasting in, and figure out how to let that go, and let light and laughter in.

I was finding ways to improve myself in other areas of my life: my relationship with my partner, moving out on my own, and changing jobs to a more positive environment. But theatre, which has always been my passion, was still an aspect of my life where I held on to the darkness by continuing to focus on “heavy” shows. It wasn’t until I started Improv with Held2gether that my love of theatre truly began to contribute to the positive affect on my life. I started to feel comfortable being myself on stage, and not having to resort to histrionics to achieve that.

These three basic rules of Improv helped to shed light on the areas that I needed to work on with myself:

“Yes, and…” – In an Improv scene, you always want to accept the information that is given to you, and add to it. In my life, I have had a tendency to say “no” to presented opportunities if I wasn’t comfortable with them, or unless I knew every single detail that could possibly emerge from accepting said opportunities. I rarely added new information to conversations unless it was coaxed out of me. I had it in my mind that I had to be in complete control of what was happening in my life. My rule was “No, but…” I had to let go of that to get to a better place in my life. “Yes, and” has taught me to not be so afraid of new information or change, and that no matter what may come my way, I can most likely handle it.

Avoid Asking Questions – “What are you doing?” “Where are we?” “What’s your name?” I’ve learned that in Improv, questions can hurt an otherwise awesome scene, because it puts the responsibility of presenting information onto your partner, and lets you get off scot-free from having to contribute. In my life, questions arise frequently. And often I’ll answer them with more questions. (“What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do tonight?”) Questions can be a quick road to nowhere. Making definitive statements has been a scary concept for me. “What if they don’t like what I say?” “What if that makes them not like me?” What if I stop asking so many damn questions, both out loud and in my head, and start making some active choices. In a scene, letting go of the fear of responsibility can lead to wonderful Improv. In my life, letting go of the fear of responsibility can lead to a wonderful life.

Connect With Your Partner – Darren and Sonnjea always tells us before we begin a scene to make eye contact with the performer on stage with you. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it can be easily overlooked, or downright scary. Sometimes I think I have such a great idea coming into the scene that I want to get it out first, eye contact be damned. Sometimes the fear of not knowing what to do in a scene causes me to look down or up or to the right or to the left. Anywhere but at my partner. In Improv, this will lead to a disastrous scene. I learned that a scene partner is there with you as your partner. You’re in this together, and together you’ll make it work. In my life, I’ve long held onto the idea that anything that I needed to do in my life, I had to do completely on my own. I didn’t ask for help. Instead I overworked myself, and let details fall through the cracks. The first time I ever directed a play, I took on practically all the responsibility, from booking the venue, to ordering chairs, to stage managing, to setting up sound cues, to running the ticket pre-sales, and so forth. The opening night of the show should have been my proudest moment, but I was too frazzled by not letting go of the “I can do it all syndrome.” Now, I’m learning not to be too proud to ask for help. I connect with my partner to make mutual decisions. I connect with my friends to work on projects together. I connect with the people in my life to help make my life easier, and hopefully that goes both ways. Making eye contact with people still scares me from time to time, but the more I let go of the fear of connecting, the more successful my life becomes.

I’m at a point in my life right now where good things are happening. I’ve grown a confidence that wasn’t there before. And together with the other positive areas in my life, my passion for theatre has helped me to let go of some of the crap I’ve needed to let go of. It’s an ongoing journey for me, yet it’s a journey that I’m continuing to find success with.

I still love acting, and I know that in the future I will play “dark roles” again, but now I know that I don’t need them to grow or escape. I used to not think that I was a “funny performer” but it turns out that the humor comes naturally just by letting go. My favorite moments on stage used to be the ones that might make an audience cry; now, my favorite thing about performing is that it reflects the lightness and laughter that is starting to seep out of me.

By Darren Held

When In Rome Play by Roman Improv Rules

by Sonnjea Blackwell
I have taken improv classes at several places: Held2gether (um, duh), Groundlings, UCB and Second City. Each school has its own specific style of improv and its own list of improv rules, and none of them is wrong… they’re just different. But sometimes a student will complain to an instructor (and I’m not just talking about me, here; I’ve seen it happen everywhere) that, “Well, at this other school, we did it this way.

Well, yay for you and that other school. But this is how we do it here

I talk a lot about improv rules, but how about this for an analogy: You know when you’re a kid, and you start to realize that the rules at your house are not necessarily the rules at your friends’ houses? I mean, there are probably some basic core rules that apply everywhere, like don’t set stuff on fire and don’t throw your baseball in the house and don’t yodel in your sister’s ear while she’s asleep, that type of thing. But the other rules seem to vary from place to place. Maybe at your house, you can’t play video games until your homework is done, while at your neighbor’s house, you can only play video games rated E and only until 7 p.m., and at your best friend’s house, you can play any video games that aren’t pornographic.

The rules aren’t wrong, they’re just different.

It’s the same with improv. There are three basic core rules that apply across the board – agree, add information and commit (you should also avoid setting stuff on fire; I’m just sayin’). Beyond that, each school of improv has its own school of thought, and while you are taking a class at a particular school, it’s your responsibility to play by their improv rules. If you don’t like how they do improv, that’s totally fine… but while you’re there, you still have to respect that they know how to teach their version of improv. I haven’t enjoyed the style of improv at all the schools I’ve tried – and that’s totally cool; it’s part of the learning and exploring process. I chalk it up to experience, apply the skills I’ve learned in whatever way works, and move on. But while I’m there, I play by their improv rules, and I respect that their instructors are experts on their style of improv.

Held2gether’s style of improv, in case you’re wondering, is primarily character/relationship-based short form scenes. And Darren and I are experts in our style of improv because Darren created the curriculum that we both follow. Since our approach is based on the concept of improv for life, we have a different focus than the schools in LA – and we’re proud of that. We want to help people overcome personal obstacles, get more joy out of life and also learn some improv, so our particular improv rules are designed to accomplish those goals.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, when in Rome, don’t expect Ethiopian food. And please don’t yodel.

By Darren Held

What? An Improv School in Long Beach?

by Sonnjea Blackwell

What’s What at Held2gether

So, since this is the Grand Re-Opening of the H2g blog, I figured I’d introduce us and stuff. First of all, Held2gether: improv for life is the only improv school in Long Beach. We’re different from the LA improv schools in that our focus is that improv for life part of our name; in other words, we don’t give a crap if you have any kind of performance background or performance aspirations or even performance anxiety. Actually, that last one falls under the category of TMI, anyway, and we’d prefer not to know about it. Thanks.

We believe that the skills taught in our improv classes are applicable in every area of life, and we aim to share that magic with as many people as possible. Agreeing, listening, contributing, being in the moment, committing and supporting one another are all skills needed in improv and life. Why should only actors get to learn all that awesome stuff? Sheesh.

Who’s Who at Held2gether

Darren Held is the “Held” in Held2gether. He went to fancy acting school at NYU and stuff. He stumbled into improv many years ago, and realized right away that the skills needed for doing good improv were the same skills needed for doing good life. When the time was right, he started teaching improv… just one little Parks & Rec class, back in 2009. People were drawn to the “improv for life” aspect and enrollment continued to increase and increase and increase. Pretty soon, Darren had a whole improv empire known as Held2gether: improv for life, and he needed another teacher.

Sonnjea Blackwell (that’s me) was H2g’s original poster child for the non-performer doing improv. I was on stage once, in 5th grade, in a play about the American Revolution. I played a rock, which I’m sure you realize is a very key role in a play about a, uh, war. I worked up the courage to take that first Parks & Rec improv class mainly to overcome shyness, push myself out of my comfort zone and try to deal with some serious writer’s block. I expected it to help with all of those things, and it did. What I didn’t expect was that I would totally fall in love with improv for improv’s sake. I’ve studied improv intensively for the past 4 years (at Held2gether, Groundlings, UCB and Second City). I’ve been writing this blog for several years, sharing my insights and frustrations as a student, performer and teacher of improv comedy.

If you’re new to Held2gether, welcome! If you’re a regular, welcome to you too! You can find out more about our improv classes (which start all the time), improv shows (which are usually free or at least very cheap) and other cool stuff at Held2gether.com.