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by Darren Held

Eye contact is a tricky thing. Not enough, and people will think you’re a shifty-eyed-lying-used-car-salesman type. Too much, and people will get a restraining order. It’s even trickier in improv, where it’s the main mechanism for getting two or more people out of their own heads and onto the same page.

Researchers have done studies on the involuntary eye movements people make when they are thinking. Looking up or down, left or right, all serve a purpose in terms of accessing information stored in our brains. For example, I was just stuck for a word, and I looked up and to the left. Which is, you know, the spot on my wall where I keep lists of words. But that’s a whole other thing.

The problem, as it applies to improv, is that when I look anywhere in an attempt to access information in my brain, I am only looking IN MY BRAIN. Those of you who know me realize what a small place that is to look. But even if my brain held as much information as Albert Einstein, it’s a crappy place to look for improv-y information.

Looking in your own brain is a recipe for sticking to an agenda. Sorry, you can argue with me till the cows come home and couch it in whatever terms you like, but you won’t convince me otherwise. If you think the information in your head (your agenda) is what you need, you’re not trusting the process to provide the information that the scene needs.

The only way to connect with your scene partner(s) and let go of your agenda is to look them square in the eyes and take time to let that connection form. Then you aren’t looking in YOUR brain and they aren’t looking in THEIR brain, but you are both looking in the UNIFIED brain you’ve magically created.

I honestly don’t know if there have been studies on this type of magical eye contact or not. Speaking as a person who had to work very hard to learn to make eye contact, I can attest to the almost indescribable difference it makes in improv. Honestly, just in the comfort level alone, it’s worth it – if you’re ever feeling alone and exposed onstage, make eye contact with your partner. Bam! Now you’re not one of X number of people on stage, you are part of a larger collective with the same goals and objectives.

Well, now it just sounds creepy and Borg-y. But I think you get my point. Eye contact: good.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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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