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by Darren Held

I haven’t mentioned the unicorns lately, and it occurred to me that you might be worried about them. Except that would be silly, because unicorns are immortal and they never get sick or sad.

That’s why, much as I love unicorns, they could never do improv. Unicorns are always sparkly and happy, and they are incapable of meanness or sadness or any negative emotion. Duh. Please don’t argue with me on this one, people.

So in an improv scene, they are never able to make an emotional change. They smile and sparkle, regardless of the information you give them. It’s wonderful in real life, but it doesn’t make for a great improv scene. Luckily, unicorns don’t really want to do improv. They know that humans need it more, so they are happy to just watch and give awesome suggestions, like “making rainbows” for an activity.

Humans, on the other hand, are designed to experience a whole broad range of emotions. But it seems that most of us have certain emotions we’re more comfortable expressing than others, at least in front of people who don’t happen to be ourselves. Back in the day, when we would do against type exercises, they would have me be anything but bitchy, because that was my go-to emotion. Then I became so nice that in a subsequent class, they had me do mean because they’d never seen that bitch character. Lately they want to see me do “flirty,” which doesn’t technically qualify as an emotion, if you ask me.

But if you think of the whole wide spectrum of emotions, there are a lot to choose from. Angry, happy and sad are the usual suspects – and a great place to start, but there are also things like paranoid, terrified, condescending, giddy, ecstatic, distraught, grief-stricken, flirty, curmudgeonly, superior… I think you get my point.

Like anything else in improv, your emotion comes down to making a choice. Decide at the top of the scene that you are going to start in a heightened emotional state of [enter an emotion that makes you uncomfortable here], and see where that takes you. Of course, you’ll have a change at some point in the scene, based on the information you and your partner come up with, and that might take you to another emotion you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t worry about it or judge how superior or giddy or whatever is “supposed” to look – just make a choice and commit to it, and you’re more than 1/2 way there.

Now I’m off to smile and sparkle with the unicorns. What? I can totally do sparkly, peeps.

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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