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by Darren Held

Tonight’s level 1 improv class is going to focus on spacework and labeling, one of which is my favorite thing to do.

Yeah, if you’ve seen me do spacework, it’s clear that labeling is my favorite thing to do. Whatev.

You know the ingredient labels on food? Well, you have to have those labels to know what you’re eating, right? Same with improv labels: you have to have labels to know what you’re doing!

Once the foundations are out – who, what, where and relationships – it’s crucial to add labels. Just because we’re brother and sister, doesn’t mean we really know anything about these people. But when you add labels, you not only learn more about the characters, but you give yourselves information that you can build a scene on. Without labels, you’re just ordinary people, and nobody wants to watch ordinary people.

Labels can be descriptions of anything from what you or your scene partner are wearing, to how you behave, to what your point of view is. If I wear overalls all the time, and my brother wears 3 piece suits, you can probably assume we’re going to differ on other important issues as well – and it’s fun to discover what those are.

Remember when you’re giving labels, it’s best to give specific labels about behavior or point of view or appearance. “You’re a loser” is a judgement and besides that, it’s vague. “Loser” means too many things to people, so being specific is a much stronger choice. “You’ve never held a job for longer than 3 months” or “You have chronic BO and only 3 teeth” or “You think relationships will cut into your model-boat-building time” give a person something to work with, and help them develop their character’s point of view.

When you get a label, take that characteristic on to the best of your ability! Always try to use your labels to help develop your point of view. Just being generally ugly is okay, but it doesn’t make a character. However, if your point of view is that you know you’re ugly, so you overcompensate by always trying to help your friends find great bargains, that can be a funny character.

Point of view confuses a lot of people, but it is essentially how does this character see the world and their place in it? Think about what this character would want, and how they would go about getting it. A hoity-toity princess will acquire what she wants in a totally different way than a socially awkward computer geek… and if for some reason they are together in a scene, even better!

Now, since I’m a socially awkward improv geek, I have to go and practice yes, anding myself in the mirror. What? You know that’s how I roll, peeps.

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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