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by Darren Held

All right. If the handcuffs thing is any indication, I tell you all everything anyway, so I might as well share my latest reason for being all angsty: It’s performing in improv shows where the majority of the audience is students. You know. Improv students. Whom I teach.

That’s a lot of pressure. I mean, there’s pressure whenever I perform anyway because I always want to do the best improv I can and give the audience a great show. But when the audience is made up of students, there are different levels of pressure. Sure, I’ll enumerate them for you. Duh. That’s how I roll, people.

  1. Students who have been taking classes for awhile know the rules of improv by now. I don’t want to be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” people, so I’m extra conscious of the rules when I perform. That’s silly and puts undue pressure on myself because I’m not much of an improv rule breaker in the first place: I don’t ask questions or go for the joke, I’m not sarcastic (no, really), and I never deny. I’d be better off not worrying about the rules and just focusing on being in the moment and making everything matter. Duh.
  2. Students who are pretty new and don’t know the rules yet still have the notion that whoever gets the biggest laughs must have done the best improv. Not true, and yet when new students are present I feel pressure to “be funny.” That’s like, I dunno, death in an improv scene. My job as an improviser is to give my partner the best information and emotional reactions I can to build a scene. Someone has to be the straight person in a scene, and I happen to be a really good straight person. That means the other person often gets the bigger laughs. So what? Did the scene work? Then I did my job.
  3. Students who have signed up and haven’t had any classes yet sometimes watch the performers and assume whoever had the best show must be the best teacher. This is wrong on a couple fronts. First, any given night any of my troupemates may have the “best” show, because we’re all good improvisers (although when the show really works is when the audience can’t pinpoint who was the best because we all worked together seamlessly as a cohesive unit.) Second, teaching a skill is not the same as doing it. Whether or not I have an awesome show doesn’t alter the fact that I understand improv and how to teach it to others and help them get better at it. Third, none of my troupemates currently teaches improv classes, so that automatically gives me a leg up. LOL.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to perform, and I love that our students come out to see our shows. I just have a little performance anxiety at the moment is all. So, uh, thanks for letting me give myself a public pep talk here. Anyway, if I can remember what I tell my students (namely to be in the moment, let go of trying to be funny and just commit), then I will do awesome improv and have nothing to feel anxious about.

I hate it when I have to take my own advice.

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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