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by Darren Held

I apologize for the seemingly inappropriate photo, but I actually used it on purpose to prove a point… which is that we see what we want to see (or at least what we expect to see).

Our brains are adept at translating sensory input, whether visual or auditory or whatever, into information we expect. It’s some kind of efficiency thing, evidently. We see a red octagon, and our brains expect the word on it to say stop. It’s why proofreading is so difficult – our brains know what the word is supposed to be, and they often don’t catch the trasnposition error. See?

In improv, the effect is evident in listening. If an improvisor is truly in the moment and not holding onto any agenda, they will be able to listen to their scene partner and respond appropriately. But if he or she has an idea in their head, some agenda they are attached to in even a small way, their listening will be compromised. Their brain will hear the words they want or expect to hear; they’ll hear words that justify the agenda they are determined to drive. And they won’t hear the rest.

Then they’ll add their information that they’ve been dying to add, and it won’t quite jive with the rest. It won’t necessarily be out of left field, but it won’t really work, either.

Your brain works by matching up patterns, so the best way not to get trapped hearing incorrectly is not to have any loop running in your brain. If you have an agenda, your brain will match the information it hears to that agenda and literally discard or fail to hear anything that doesn’t “fit.” If you have no agenda, your brain has no pattern to match, so it takes in ALL the information.

I know it’s scary to let go of your agenda and resist the urge to pre-plan, but I assure you your scenes will go better if you do. Then, as you let go of your agenda more and more and have better and better scenes, your brain will start to recognize the “pattern” of no agenda = good improv = laughter and applause and it will gradually stop trying to force its ideas on you and everybody else.

I hope you that read right.

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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