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by Darren Held

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Judging by the encounters I have in the real world, a class in listening would benefit most humans. This is the conversation I had at the Coffee Bean yesterday:

Sonnjea: Hey, Coffee Bean Lady, I’d like a large African Sunrise iced tea to go please.
Coffee Bean Lady: What size iced tea would you like?

Now, either the name of the tea is Large African Sunrise, meaning that the sunrises in Africa are oversized, or Coffee Bean Lady wasn’t listening to me. I’ve never been to Africa, so I can’t comment on the relative size of their sunrises, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it was the lack of listening thing.

That’s not a big deal, but variations on the theme happen dozens of time each day. People just don’t really listen. I’ve never seen Listening 101 in any college catalogs, however, so I guess improv classes will have to suffice.

I know sometimes brand new students in my Level 1 classes think the “rules” of a particular exercise are unnecessary. Why should I have to say, “Yes, and I…” when “yeah, so…” means almost the same thing. Why on earth do I have to say, “I could be…” instead of “I’m an…” And so on.

Here’s the thing. Part of the learning process of improv involves learning to listen to instructions AND follow them. The exercises have layers of skill-building, and if you pick and choose which parts you want to do, you’re missing out on essential parts of the instruction.

I can tell, based on how people attempt the exercises, whether they’ve listened to me when I explained the exercise. Any given day, somebody might not hear everything, and that doesn’t mean much. But when, exercise after exercise, I have to re-explain things to someone, I know they are going to struggle in scenes because they simply do not listen.

If you notice that I’m having to re-explain things to you over and over, take a look at your listening skills. We all have shorter attention spans these days, so if your mind starts to wander, remind it that if it pays attention now, it will do hilarious improv later.

I s’pose better listening might help out in the real world as well, at least if you make iced tea for a living.

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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