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by Darren Held

Each improv school has its own improv rules
by Sonnjea Blackwell
I have taken improv classes at several places: Held2gether (um, duh), Groundlings, UCB and Second City. Each school has its own specific style of improv and its own list of improv rules, and none of them is wrong… they’re just different. But sometimes a student will complain to an instructor (and I’m not just talking about me, here; I’ve seen it happen everywhere) that, “Well, at this other school, we did it this way.

Well, yay for you and that other school. But this is how we do it here

I talk a lot about improv rules, but how about this for an analogy: You know when you’re a kid, and you start to realize that the rules at your house are not necessarily the rules at your friends’ houses? I mean, there are probably some basic core rules that apply everywhere, like don’t set stuff on fire and don’t throw your baseball in the house and don’t yodel in your sister’s ear while she’s asleep, that type of thing. But the other rules seem to vary from place to place. Maybe at your house, you can’t play video games until your homework is done, while at your neighbor’s house, you can only play video games rated E and only until 7 p.m., and at your best friend’s house, you can play any video games that aren’t pornographic.

The rules aren’t wrong, they’re just different.

It’s the same with improv. There are three basic core rules that apply across the board – agree, add information and commit (you should also avoid setting stuff on fire; I’m just sayin’). Beyond that, each school of improv has its own school of thought, and while you are taking a class at a particular school, it’s your responsibility to play by their improv rules. If you don’t like how they do improv, that’s totally fine… but while you’re there, you still have to respect that they know how to teach their version of improv. I haven’t enjoyed the style of improv at all the schools I’ve tried – and that’s totally cool; it’s part of the learning and exploring process. I chalk it up to experience, apply the skills I’ve learned in whatever way works, and move on. But while I’m there, I play by their improv rules, and I respect that their instructors are experts on their style of improv.

Held2gether’s style of improv, in case you’re wondering, is primarily character/relationship-based short form scenes. And Darren and I are experts in our style of improv because Darren created the curriculum that we both follow. Since our approach is based on the concept of improv for life, we have a different focus than the schools in LA – and we’re proud of that. We want to help people overcome personal obstacles, get more joy out of life and also learn some improv, so our particular improv rules are designed to accomplish those goals.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, when in Rome, don’t expect Ethiopian food. And please don’t yodel.

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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