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by Darren Held

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy hanging out with my friends. It’s easier and more comfortable than spending time with strangers, who have weird quirks and strange mannerisms and don’t automatically laugh at all your jokes or find it amusing when you fall asleep half way through a party. Oh. Perhaps that’s just me.

Anyhoo. That same comfort is present when you do improv with your friends. Not that all scenes you do with your friends will work, of course – that’s wishful thinking. But there is definitely a greater level of comfort working with someone you already know and trust. It’s easier to connect, because you do already trust them. Eye contact is easier. You can get on the same page quicker because you each know how the other thinks. You can consciously play to each other’s strengths.

And that’s all well and good if you’re just playing around, or doing drunk improv, or performing in a show. But if you’re in an improv class, playing with your pals all the time will stunt your growth. My grandmother was into ballroom dancing and once, when I was anxious before a 7th grade dance, she told me the best thing to do was to “dance with anybody who asks.” She clearly hadn’t seen some of the 7th grade boys, but still, it’s a valid point.

The best way to improve at improv is to do exercises and scenes with as many different people as possible. When I do a scene with Viet, I can tend to get lazy and do the scene on autopilot because we know each other so well. FYI, autopilot in improv is the best way to crash into the mountains in a giant fireball of unfunny destruction. But if I do a scene with a stranger (or relative stranger), I have to be totally present and in the moment – which is, after all, the point of improv. And that’s the only way to be able to listen and react and do good improv.

So if you’re in a class with some pals, challenge yourself to do your scenes with anyone OTHER than them. You’ll learn a lot more in a shorter amount of time, and in the process you’ll make new pals to add to your collection.

And new pals means more people who find you amusing, which comes in handy for that falling asleep thing.

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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