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by Darren Held

Last night in the Held2gether Level 3 improv class, we did a bunch of character work. If you’ve read this blog more than a handful of times, you know that characters are not my forté, so let’s just say this wasn’t one of those classes where I moseyed onstage and glittery wonderfulness flowed from me and people laughed uproariously at everything I said and did.

Nope. More like, whatever is the opposite of glittery wonderfulness followed me around like that cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen. I have a tendency to do things really fast – I talk fast, I move my arms fast and did I mention I talk fast? Anyway, I was challenging myself to take on characters that were slower. Unfortunately, coupled with my natural speediness, I also have a natural casualness. So although I may talk fast, I don’t talk with any particular intensity. The character I came up with for one exercise was slower, but she had no intensity or point of view and so she came across as generally bitchy but in a low energy way. IT WAS TERRIBLE.

I’m not falsely modest, so you can be assured that if I say it was terrible, it was. But I was really actually happy about it, because I tried something that was so different and hard for me that I couldn’t quite figure it out – AND I stuck with it to the very end of the scene (sorry again, Bill).

My second outing fared slightly better because I tried to just slow down a perky type of character. So the energy was there, and yet she wasn’t super fast. It worked, but it wasn’t much of a departure for me since the physicality and the tone of voice were essentially mine. I did manage to slow down the flapping hands, though. So it was a step towards what I was going for. You know, a really small, stumbly step.

The good news about being me is that I also take the Level 3 class on Friday mornings. So with last night’s debacle still fresh in my mind, along with the helpful notes Darren gave me, I tried again to do a slower character – but I made sure to give her a strong point of view and some intensity to up the energy level and the stakes. I had a different voice – deeper and slower than my real voice – and kind of chest-out, alpha posture.

This was nowhere near the best, most interesting character in the history of improv. Or even in the history of today’s improv class. But it illustrates my point, which is that failing big by trying something hard is the only way to learn. And the entire point of improv class is to LEARN. You can show off on your own time; class is about doing the stuff you’re NOT already good at and about helping your classmates do the same by giving them 100% commitment and support every time.

And just to be clear, the only way to actually fail in an improv class is to not commit. Give it your all and, whether it technically “works” or not, you’ve succeeded.

You know. Like life.

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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