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by Darren Held

One of the incredible things about Held2gether improv classes in Long Beach is that Darren takes the time to help each student over their particular hurdles. That’s never as obvious as it is in week five of the L2 class, a night we’ve come to call Specialty Night.

Sometimes we do “against type” exercises, where each student takes on a character that’s 180 degrees from their usual characters. Other times, Darren devises specific exercises for each student, addressing his or her weaknesses. People who tend to be flat may get an exercise where they have to have HUGE emotional reactions to mundane information like “The toothpaste is on sale.” People who can tend to vomit information (stop pointing your fingers at me; didn’t your mother teach you pointing is rude?) may be restricted from saying lines that contain more than 5 words. People who are agenda-driven may have to give up the “and” part of “yes, and” for an exercise in which they have no choice but to go along with the other person’s ideas.

It’s HARD. Really, really hard. Because you have your tendencies and your go-to’s for a reason, and that reason usually has something to do with some sort of insecurity or trust issue or… oh, let’s stop sugar-coating it and just call it fear, shall we? But the exercises are designed to give you no choice, and by week 5 everyone in the class is so bonded and connected that you feel safe tackling even your biggest obstacles.

I have seen literally dozens of epiphanies on Specialty Nights over the past couple years. People, stripped of their go-to defense mechanisms, suddenly understand what they’ve been hiding (or hiding behind) and leap to the next level on their improv learning zig-zag. It’s so inspiring to watch.

Naturally, it’s time for an improv=real life analogy here. I mean, Darren can’t visit all of you and give you an exercise that’ll help you overcome your real life obstacles. But you probably have an inkling of what those obstacles are, right? So force yourself to respond differently in those situations. If your go-to is to say no, say yes instead. If you’re shy, talk to every single person you encounter today. If you’re bossy, ask someone else to take the lead on something – and don’t criticize their choices. In other words, make today your very own Specialty Day and see what that does for you.

Personally, I’m going to work on writing a story that contains only 5 words.

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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