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by Darren Held

I learned something in an improv class recently. I know, shocking.

As you all probably have realized by now, I am quite analytical and derive part of my enjoyment of improv from analyzing the why’s and wherefore’s of it. Why is asking questions bad? Why is commitment the only rule that offers no wiggle room? Why does Andy no longer carry his dead wife’s head around in a mason jar?

I know the answers to two out of three of those questions, by the way.

One thing I’ve been analyzing lately is the idea of being self-conscious. Actually, self-aware might be a better way to put it. Self-conscious implies embarrassment, and I want to use the word in a broader sense. See, some people are self-conscious in the sense that they feel judged when the audience watches them do certain types of characters or voices or physicality, and that feeling of judgment leads them to be embarrassed or inhibited.

On the other hand, some people are self-conscious in the sense that they feel like what they’re doing is awesome and they can’t wait for the audience to see it. Rather than feeling embarrassed, they are showing off. So it’s not self-consciousness in the way we normally think of the word, but it still requires an awareness of yourself and the audience: I am showing off for you. That’s a better way to go, because you’ll be much more likely to fully commit to a character and play the emotions HUGE than if you’re inhibited. But…

I talked to someone recently who was having a great class and I asked if she had any previous improv or drama experience. She laughed and said no, but that sometimes she and her friends just goofed off in an improv-y sort of way to amuse themselves.

And I realized that that’s what we do when we’re kids. Of course, we don’t know the rules of improv. But we instinctively commit, marching around like soldiers, or prowling around like cops and robbers or making delicious spacework (back then we called it “pretend”) brownies for our playing house families. We had deep voices, threw out our chests, cowered in pretend fear, were total experts at everything, screamed at the top of our lungs – and we weren’t self-conscious. We were just totally in the moment, playing.

I don’t know if there’s any way to be aware of the audience/class/teacher and not let it affect you, in either the don’t look at me way OR the hey! look at me! way, but it’s now another goal of mine to forget anybody’s watching and just PLAY!

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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