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by Darren Held

When you do improv for any length of time, you can’t help becoming aware of how other people see you. Sometimes we do “against type” exercises, where the instructor asks the class what they’d like to see from from you that’s unlike what you normally do. Sometimes, especially with people you haven’t really worked with much, you’ll get a string of labels that are similar. Sometimes people send you this picture:

Yeah. That’s subtle.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with how people see you. Maybe it’s the same as what you see in the mirror, maybe not. But for whatever reason – accurate or not – people have an impression of you. What that means in terms of your improv is entirely up to you. You can play to that image, and it will likely work pretty well because the audience is apt to see you the same way and it will be easy for them to accept you as a character close to the one they already think you are. You can also play against it, and that can work just as well because there’s something funny about seeing a big, macho guy play an insecure dweeb or a librarian-looking girl play a raunchy barmaid. The strongest approach is to mix it up – play to your type sometimes and against it sometimes. Be well-rounded.

People see me as a soccer mom, everybody’s big sister or the ever popular Den Mother. There’s value in real life in knowing how others see you, because we get so used to thinking we’re a certain way that we assume everyone sees us that way. If people aren’t seeing us the way we want to be seen, we can change our appearance or behavior to more accurately reflect who we feel like inside – but we only know to do that when we learn that others aren’t seeing us the way we see ourselves.

I’m not saying you should change yourself to match the world’s perceptions; I’m just saying it’s interesting to understand how those perceptions differ from your own. I have railed against the Den Mother label, but when all is said and done, I’m a pretty helpful person who knows how to figure shit out and get stuff done and encourage others along the way… kinda like a Den Mother. It’s not really so terrible.

Still, I wouldn’t mind being everybody’s younger sister sometimes…

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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