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by Darren Held

I’ve talked about labels in improv before, but in light of the recent revival of the mom thing (thanks so much, Nate) I think it’s time to talk about them again.

In real life, sometimes it’s hard to define yourself. Unless you are a marketing machine like Madonna, who has literally made self-reinvention an art unto itself, it can be difficult to force others to see you the way you see yourself. Look at the lengths poor Sandy had to go to in order to convince Danny she wasn’t just Sandra Dee.

I’m like boring Sandy. I have the hair to be sexy Sandy, but I’m lacking the spandex. And the, um, everything else. So I get labeled “nice” and “reliable” and “den mother.” It’s okay; none of those are bad things and they’re better than “bitch” or “psycho” or “moron.”

But in improv, I can be sexy Sandy. Or a psycho, moronic bitch. Or anything I want. If I label myself and take on a character and commit to it 100%. Because the thing is, I look the way I look: boring Sandy/soccer mom/nice. And improv doesn’t rely on costumes or makeup to change our appearance – so the only way I can possibly convince the audience that I am sexy or 450 pounds or mean or stupid or trailer trash or paranoid or whatever is to take that characteristic to a 10 and believe it myself and stay committed to it throughout the entire scene.

The audience is totally fine with suspending their disbelief, as long as you have suspended your own. If you don’t buy that you’re 450 pounds, neither will they. But if you’re really 6’2″ and you are totally committed to the little person character you are playing, the audience will love it. So don’t shy away from labels that are far from your real-life self – just remember to commit to them and then have a ball playing them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go be a nice, reliable den mother. Cuz, you know, that’s just how I roll.

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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