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by Darren Held

Not too long ago, Richard was attempting to teach me a dance that was evidently very clear to him in his head, and he would say, “Look at me! LOOK AT ME!!” to try and get me to be able to follow him. Let’s just say that a) one or both of us may have been a bit tipsy, and b) I am the worst dancer EVER, so this was not the most successful endeavor we’ve undertaken, but even in his allegedly impaired state, he had a point about the look at me thing.

Eye contact is a magical thing. I’m sure you get sick of hearing that word in relation to improv, but sometimes I don’t have a better explanation, so magic it is. I was not a natural at eye contact when I started improv. I was shy, and had trouble making or maintaining eye contact in real life, and I could NEVER hold the eye contact for long in exercises like Multiword Story, where Darren would conduct and the players had to keep their eyes on his for the ENTIRE exercise. Some stories seemed to go on for what felt like 7 years or so.

Darren kept insisting that eye contact would help us get out of our heads, help us be in the moment, help us know what to say rather than thinking of what to say and help us get on the same page with our scene partner. I believed him intellectually, but being stubborn on top of shy, I didn’t think it would work for ME.

Then one night, I was doing some exercise with Andy. I have no idea what it was. But somehow I made eye contact with him (it was probably an accident; I probably looked at him when I figured he’d be looking somewhere else), and then by some miracle I didn’t flinch or look away, and I realized I knew exactly what he was going to say next. He said it, I responded, and the scene was… well, I dunno because I can’t remember the scene. I just remember the feeling of being on the same page for the first time.

From that moment on, I was sold on the concept of eye contact. I’ve seen it work a million times, for everyone. Obviously, you don’t always know what your scene partner is going to say. But there is a connection that you can only get from eye contact that takes you a long way towards being almost psychic sometimes. Even if you can never get the scene going, you have that connection and the strong sense that at least you are not in this alone.

But it has to be real eye contact, peeps. Looking just to the left or right of your partner’s eyes so it LOOKS like you’re making eye contact, but you’re really not, doesn’t work. Also, staring without seeing doesn’t work. Plus it’s creepy. Please don’t do that.

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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