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by Darren Held

My friend Lorna is taking a Spanish language improv class, which is apropos of nothing, except it made me think of some Spanish words. In Spanish, there are two different verbs for “to be” – ser and estar – and they are used in different situations. When you are describing the essential character of a person or thing (in other words, its permanent state), you use ser. When you are describing the current state of being or condition of a person or thing, you use estar.

No, this isn’t a Spanish lesson, and yes, it’s about improv. I swear.

My point is that I sometimes hear people (okay, sometimes “people” includes “me”) describe themselves thusly: “Man, I am terrible at improv,” or “I am bad at [insert improv weakness here]” or something along those lines. In English, unfortunately, there is only one verb for “to be” and it sort of implies a permanent state (or the essential character) of the person.

When it comes to being bad at improv, the verb estar would be a much better choice. Maybe you’re not that good at improv YET. Maybe you had a terrible class last night and you are bad at creating a pattern RIGHT NOW. It’s not your permanent state of being, people.

Look, everybody has an off night or a stumbling block or a hurdle on the learning curve to contend with. Barry Bonds struck out a lot. Abraham Lincoln got fired a lot. Liam Neeson… well, bad example. Liam’s essential state is awesome sauce. But you see my point, I think – pick any hero in any field, and you’ll see times when they were bad at what they do best. But they didn’t STAY bad forever. It seems to be human nature to identify and then HOLD ON TO our weaknesses, while brushing aside our strengths and successes as flukes or temporary states.

From now on, when you’re describing what you’re good at in improv, think of those things as your permanent state and essential character. Ser. And when you’re describing what you’re bad at, think of those things as simply your current condition, subject to change at any moment. Estar.

Because really, ALL of us have the essential state of awesome sauce. We just have temporary setbacks of suckiness now and then. No big.

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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