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by Darren Held

Did you ever see that movie Bull Durham? It’s a good movie, actually, even if you’re not a huge fan of baseball. And there’s a line from the movie that I think applies equally to improv as well as baseball. Crash is giving his last bits of wisdom to Nuke before Nuke heads off to “the Show” and he says,

You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.

Okay, okay, don’t overthink this! Gimme a sec and I’ll explain.

I’m not encouraging you to be more scared of improv than you already are. And I’m not suggesting you swagger onstage and bluster about cockily, either.

Actually, we don’t want you to be afraid at all. That’s what’s awesome about improv is that it helps you face your fears, on stage and in real life, whatever that is for you. But “playing the game with fear” to me means, always being aware that there’s more you don’t know. Every time I start feeling comfortable in improv and thinking, “Hey, you know what? I got this!” something unpleasant happens to remind me the very nature of improv is you can never predict all that could happen. [Note: by “unpleasant” I mean I screw up a scene or game or class royally because I thought I knew it all. Nothing seriously unpleasant like, say, being hit by a meteor has ever happened.] But when I keep in mind that doing improv is playing on the edge and I stay humble (because way better improvisors than I have bombed even worse), it keeps my senses sharper and more in the moment. And of course, that’s when you do great improv.

The other part, playing the game with arrogance means to go out there and own it, whatever you do. Be big and bold! Make brave choices! Make an important discovery, do some unusual spacework, have a huge emotional reaction… whatever it is, know you are doing it better than anyone else could possibly do it in this particular moment.

In Held2gether improv classes, I see people go through phases where they are totally in sync with this whole “fear and arrogance” thing, and it’s awesome to watch. Of course, the reality is, sometimes people go through phases where they get the arrogance and fear reversed, and then it’s a bit of a struggle until they reach another upturn on the learning zig-zag. But wherever you are on that learning zig-zag, you won’t find a more encouraging group of people to zig and zag with.

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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