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by Darren Held

Sorry for my absence. If you’ve been to the Held2gether website, you can see I’ve been busy posting new classes for 2012 and the last couple shows for 2011. So it’s not as if I’ve just been sitting around twirling my hair or worrying about my fantasy football league or whatever it is you think I do.

Excuse me, but does anyone else find it disturbing that there are constantly Groupons for stuff like Botox and liposuction now?

Oh, and FYI, I so know who Howie Long is.

This gloom is making me feel gloomy myself. Like maybe I should dye my hair black and do my makeup like Elvira or something.

Right. I’m trying to make a point, and that point is not that I’m certifiably insane, thank you very much. My point is, only three-year-olds and stoners spew random information stream-of-consciousness style like this. As we learn social skills, which takes some of us much, much longer than others, we learn to filter our thoughts and exercise give-and-take in our conversations. We listen to people, and then we respond to what they said – with a logical rejoinder, not some random factoid that no one really cares about in this particular context.

I’m always yammering on about how improv classes can help in real-life situations. But this is a case where real life can help your improv. I’ve seen eleventy gazillion scenes where one person says something like, “Dammit, Frank, you’re judging my potato-peeling skills again! I want a divorce.” And for some reason, that information doesn’t register in the other person’s head and they say, “I’m thinking of getting liposuction on my knees, Jane.”

Um, what?

Often the spew-o-meter keeps on spewing, too, adding random fact after random fact: “Besides liposuction, I’m also suffering from depression because I like to saw people in half and today I ate a jack-o-lantern.”

It’s virtually impossible to build a scene this way, because nothing relates to anything else, so nothing sticks and you essentially have two people spewing random stuff. Spewing randomness is typically a result of feeling panic in the scene. Luckily, there is a sure-fire cure for spewing, and that is to listen.

Just pretend that you and your scene partner are actual human beings having an actual conversation. If that were the case, you would listen to what they said and then reply to it. You might reply calmly, or you might have a big ol’ emotional reaction to what they said, but it would be in response to what they said.

“Well, that’s just fine, Jane! I can’t be married to a woman who treats potatoes so sloppily anyway. I just wish I hadn’t wasted the last 15 years with you and your lumpy mashed potatoes.” Or, “What! No, you can’t leave me! You’re the only person who’s worse than me at anything. Without you, I’ll be the bottom of the barrel.” Now your scene partner, who will also be pretending you are an actual human being, can listen and respond and the information will get layered nicely and a scene will develop.

I hope this has been helpful. I don’t look like Celine Dion. For one thing, I’m blonde. Evidently my arms are not weirdly long. I want a cheesecake.

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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