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by Darren Held

I don’t usually remember my dreams. I don’t know if that makes me a psychopath or what, but it is what it is. However, the dreams I do remember are the unpleasant ones. Not always nightmares; just not unicorns-and-sparkles happy.

What the heck does this have to do with improv? is the question I think you’re mouthing at this moment.

Okay, I’ma tell you. See, sometimes I have dreams involving my real friends, only in my dreams they are real jerks. Then I wake up in the morning and I’m real mad at my real friends… except they didn’t technically do anything wrong. So now I’m stuck being mad at people for reasons known only to me, which makes it hard for them to understand why I’m not acting like my usual cheery self. What? I’m cheery, dammit.

This happens all the time in improv. Not the sleeping and having bad dreams part, but the part where one person is happy/sad/angry/paranoid/admiring/flirtatious/whatever for reasons known only to them. We’re so used to cutting to the chase, that we often neglect to tell every step in the story. But in improv, you have to spell it all out.

I used the socks on the line story once before, but it’s a good example and it doesn’t make anybody look bad except me, so I’ll use it again. The scene was nursing home residents watching a woman hanging out laundry. Andy noted the lady was hanging up a single sock. Viet mentioned that I was mean and yet clung desperately to anyone I could find.

In my head, the lone sock was a perfect analogy for this bitter old woman who didn’t have a mate but who clung to people like socks without fabric softener. And I thought the bitter old woman would wonder why the sock had to be lonely, so I said, “What’s the deal with the one sock?” or something along those lines. The whole analogy about my life = a solitary sock with static cling got trapped in my head, so it looked like I wasn’t interested in those awesome labels of loneliness and bitterness and clingyness, and just wanted to talk about socks.

Much like Vegas, what happens in your head stays there. People you’ve dreamed about don’t know they left you at the restaurant and stuck you with the bill. People in improv scenes don’t know you’ve made eleven leaps of logic and are now stabbing them even though what they said was, “You’re always trying to make friends with people through food.”

That line or two it takes to justify the emotional change or the information you’re giving makes all the difference in terms of the scene making sense and your partner knowing what’s going on inside your noggin. So just spell it out.

As for Nate and Darren, you owe me lunch.

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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