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by Darren Held

See if you can figure out what’s wrong with this sentence: Last night I effed up a simple 2-person alphabet scene.

Nope. “Effed up” is the past-tense of “eff up,” and it is used correctly in this sentence. I know these things; I’m a writer.

What’s wrong is that I referred to an improv scene as “simple.” Doh! I should really know better by now.

Nothing about improv is simple. It’s deceptive because the basic rules of improv seem incredibly simple:

  1. Listen
  2. Agree
  3. Add information
  4. Commit

BFD, right? But just as a social experiment, try going through your day, adhering to those “simple” rules.

  • Really listen to every person you encounter.
  • Agree with people.
  • Contribute your own ideas.
  • Be present and fully engaged in every encounter and activity.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Do you even remember how to listen without thinking about your rebuttal, or how you’re going to one-up this story, or wondering why the heck this person is talking to you in the first place?

Agree? Pshaw. We are so conditioned to say no, can’t and but that we don’t even notice how negative we are.

Because we are so quick to shoot down every idea (see ↑↑), many of us have gotten unused to offering our own ideas and suggestions. Some of us have even forgotten how to have ideas, because it’s been so long since anyone accepted them.

In real life, we multitask all the time. No matter what we’re doing, we’re also scrolling through our minds, thinking about what we have to do next, what we need from the grocery store, what we’re going to wear to the wedding tomorrow; we’re updating our FB status or playing Mafia Wars or texting or doing our nails or looking at the cute guy across the restaurant. We are usually not fully present and focused on the task or person at hand.

The good news is, improv teaches you how to do all those things in a way that feels like you’re just playing silly games with some hilarious, sweet, supportive people. And soon the skills of listening, agreeing, contributing and being present start to trickle into your real life, and the rewards are nothing short of amazing.

It’s simple, really.

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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