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by Darren Held

Ready for some improv wisdom from the man himself? Darren Held is gonna share some with you… right NOW:

Hey! You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna go somewhere – a coffee shop – and I’m gonna sit down and write the best blog ever! It’s gonna be chock full of wisdom and humor, and it’s gonna be a few paragraphs long and it’s gonna be on the website. Whoo! Now just sit back and imagine me standing in my living room talking about how awesome this blog is gonna be for the next 3-5 minutes.

Sound entertaining? Really? Well, then you’re too kind. My guess is you would actually rather read this blog than see a scene of me talking about planning to write it. If I’m wrong, text me and I’ll send you a video.

In improv, Gonnaville is a one-way ticket to nowhere.

In improv, Gonnaville is a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Unfortunately in improv, Gonnaville is a common destination. It’s human nature. We love to make plans in real life. Planning our trip to Vegas is way more exciting than focusing on our Chinese Chicken Salads in front of us – in real life. But imagine the person in the booth next to you, who knows nothing about you. If they were eavesdropping, would they rather hear your plans for the future – or would they be more intrigued by a salty confession that you invited your ex-girlfriend despite objections from the guys? Or that you have great remorse over the full body flamingo tattoo you received that last time? Or that one of you scheduled this lunch to move your relationship past friendship and into full blown lust?

You get the picture… What we want to see in improv is what is happening between you NOW. Improv is all about relationship. When we feel unclear about our relationship, we take an express train to Gonnaville: “I’m baking a pie.” “We’re gonna be rich!” “Yeah! We’ll win a pie competition!” “And we’ll be famous!” “Now what?” “Let’s bake it!”

The concept may have substance, but what’s interesting are the types of characters that would actually be in a pie competition. Who does that?! I know exactly zero pie competitors. Okay, maybe my sister, circa 1998. She was way into peaches then. Anyway… labeling these rich characters will be fun for you and the audience. Maybe you’re thanking your Uncle Arlis for pulling you out of high school early to focus on a pie-making career, and giving you a mission. Maybe one of you has misplaced the special ingredient, so your dreams are in danger. There’s really no wrong answer as long as you make it present.

Just like Riverside County, we can’t avoid Gonnaville completely. But there are a few tricks that can help you get back on track to Now Town and bring things to the present time.

1) Get emotional. Having a freak out always stimulates a lagging scene. So if you feel it going to Gonnaville, change the emotion and justify it: “You know I can’t go to anymore competitions. I get into fights every time and end up in jail.” Or confess something. Confessions are always great: “I have to confess, I’ve switched to cake. Pie just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I won’t be your partner this year.” This makes it about your relationship now.

2) Discover something in your space. If you’re talking about a thing somewhere else, find something in your location. There’s a reason the audience suggested this location. They want you to use it! So find that note from Mom that says the recipe is
copyrighted, or spill a vat of oil on the pie and ruin things. Or find a piece of mail that says Oprah wants to meet you and she’s on her way. Just make sure you keep it about how this affecting your relationship! No Gonnaville Oprah scenes! What is she gonna do next?

3) Label your history. As a matter of fact, label everything. Has someone made you a pie that you think will get you rich? Tell them how talented and generous they are. Then find examples in the present the pay off that example: “You are so generous. You made all this pie, and I just turn on the oven. I don’t deserve you.” Or delve into your relationship history: “You’ve always had a knack for things in the kitchen. Like when we went fishing for Dover Sole, and you made an orange truffle sauce right there on the lake.”

You may be wondering Is going into the past allowed? That’s not being present! Absolutely – as long as it’s emotionally connected and affecting the Now. Yes, anding is the foundation of improv. You can “Yes, and” past facts emotionally, but not the future because….well, you know, it ain’t happened yet. So now matter how excited you get about this contest you’re gonna win, you’ll eventually run out of steam because you’re not there.

So save the fare, and try these time savers! Okay. I’m gonna go talk to my cat about how awesome my improv class is gonna be tonight.

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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