9 Reasons Say YES Will Change Your Life by Susie Moore

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity to do something and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” — Richard Branson

“Yes” has magic within it. So often we are afraid of life — we fear failure, we anticipate the worst, we don’t know what to expect.

In doing so and often by saying “no” to opportunities, we reject many of life’s brilliant chances. These are often disguised as a new career prospect, an opportunity to step up at work, a surprise request from a friend, or any type of unfamiliar challenge. Anything that creates a spark of curiosity within us or generates some desire that typically lays dormant within our familiar days, is often our intuition guiding us to say yes (or at least to learn more).

But we let our fears, instead of our creativity and love, guide us and rationalize a “no.” I have seen it hundreds of times. Typically people who say “no” to opportunity love to convince you (or themselves?) why it was right for a list of reasons. I am here to say, yes can often be right! Deep down, we know when it is.

By saying yes, we often need to say no to others. This is not about being a “yes person” or feeling pressured to do things we don’t want to do. It’s about having the courage and conviction to do the things we know we really want to do. So much so sometimes, they scare us. Here are nine reasons to say yes to opportunity in your life:


1. You block the miracle if you don’t:

Opportunity sometimes knocks gently and does not wait for perfect timing. The truth is — there is no perfect timing! Marie Forleo says, “start before you are ready.” We need to trust that the universe has a bigger plan for us — one that we can only understand with hindsight. When we say no, we reject more than the opportunity, we reject the fun it brings, what it teaches us and the further gifts that can unfold if we don’t allow the initial yes.

2. There are an infinite number of reasons to say no — something is stirring the yes within you:

For something to be a question mark — a very considered decision — something, often deep inside of us, is saying yes. A no should be clear and obvious. Pay attention that little cheerleader for the yes for a while. Listen to what is has to tell you. It is often correct.

3. Someone believes you can:

To have the option of saying yes, someone or something believes you can do achieve something. North Face is not going to sponsor you to climb Everest in their clothing if it is wildly out of the question that you are capable. Take the opportunity as a compliment and harness the confidence other people have in you.

4. Yes leads to more doors (no is often closing the door):

When my husband was asked to transfer to New York City at age 23, many people thought it was too soon and that it was not a good idea. We are in our sixth year here and we agree almost every day it is the best thing we have done in our lives. The subsequent opportunities it has provided us have been truly abundant and humbling.

5. Opportunities do not always arise again — or at least the same ones:

Life and luck favor the bold. Sometimes when making a decision and considering both outcomes, the “no” outcome is connected to regret somehow. Regret is sometimes the biggest risk of all.

6. Life is richer, fuller, more vibrant:

When we say yes, we do more, create more, live more.

7. It attracts positivity:

The word itself is inviting and empowering. It’s like saying, “World, I got this!”

8. Stretch yourself:

Why are we all here if not to live the highest, fullest version of our lives? By saying yes, we invite possibility into our lives and the ability to learn what we are capable of and just how far we can go.

9. Life is short. Ask not why, but why not?

One of my favorite quotes from a young Steve Jobs is, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” A little perspective helps us abandon our fears.

Ask yourself for a change: What is the best that could happen? Think upon it. How does it feel? Marinate on that for a while. A yes might be your only option.

Quarantine Improved my Social Life by Aaron Moore

I was one of those strict quarantine people.  It mostly stemmed from the massive uncertainty at the beginning of the shutdown and my general nature toward rule-following.  I didn’t step foot in a grocery store from March 2020 to April 2021.  No outdoor walks with anyone but my husband.  And Christmas with the family—travel cancelled and moved online.

For me, this actually improved my social life.  Freed from commutes, business travel, and the built-in obligations of life, I was pretty much available every evening and weekend.  I filled much of this with improv.  From drop-ins, dramatic, and Shakespeare…I tried it all.  Best of all, Zoom offered a way to connect with my classmates in ways that were different than in-person classes.  Seeing people so frequently brought a familiarity that was comforting.  Being in a Zoom session is like sitting next to everyone in a class, with chat as a way to get to know people that isn’t possible during in-person classes.

So, what does all of this mean for moving back to in-person improv?  As someone who has thrived in lockdown, it’s a serious question for me.  In the “before times” I wouldn’t take a weeknight class because the logistics of getting from work to class felt complicated and exhausting.  Now, I know that the social interaction, friendship and fun of classes is a priority for me and want to make it happen.

But what about the actual act of being around people again?  Although I’m doing more, my lockdown life has become my norm.  How would I feel about being around people again inside and without masks? {gulp}

Well, it turns out that Held2gether had that all thought through in a way that made me—the ultra-lockdown guy—comfortable.  June 12 was the first in-person class for song improv and before, during and after class I felt safe, cared for, and respected.  The decision to require vaccinations for class registration went a long way toward that. That made me know that all my fellow students had done what they could to protect themselves and others.  There was not a mask requirement—in alignment with CDC guidelines—that actually helped get me more comfortable with that current guidance.

The rules were laid out clearly ahead of time—show your proof of vaccination the first day, wear a mask if it makes you feel more comfortable, spread out in the seating at least for the first day, and we’d have an open discussion on day one to gauge where individual comfort levels were.  Classmates were open and honest about what made them feel safe.  Some wanted elbow-bump greetings, others were freely receiving hugs but waiting to be invited to give them.  Seats were sanitized before and after class.  And individual comfort with personal space was shared.  There was total consensus that scene partners shouldn’t lick each other’s faces—well, at least until week two—although I suspect this will become a permanent rule for all time and eternity, amen.  ?

All this to say, I arrived at class knowing we were going to have the important conversation about safety.  We had this in a way that I felt heard and freed me to enjoy the time with existing and new friends.  And I left feeling energized, content, and looking forward to next week’s class—exactly the feelings that drew me to improv in the first place.  And that felt really good.

Hope to see you in class soon.

 

Laughter is the Best Medicine by Priya Bird

The call light is flashing. It’s time to give medication to room 2B. I need to call the doctor to get an order for a chest x-ray. Time to admit a new patient. Oh by the way, your patient went into cardiac arrest again! This is a typical day for a Nurse.  TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy paint this picture of meeting Dr. McDreamy in the linen closet. But the truth is, it’s more like calling a code brown and running to the linen closet to get that bedpan for Mr. McSteamy! What does this have to do with Improv? Well let me tell you!

The magic of “Yes, And”!

I came to Held2gether in 2017 with no intention to “be funny”. I was a working professional who wanted to improve my communication skills. My goal was to take one Improv class and check it off my todo list. After all, as a working professional there was no time to be funny. But having wonderful Improv Instructors, like Darren Held and Richard Martinez, taught me it was ok to laugh. Like wise sages, Darren and Richard taught me the importance of “Yes, And.” And, yes, I realized I was already applying these principles to my personal and professional life. I guess one could say Held2gether helped me find my “funny bone.”

What most people, including Nurses, don’t realize is that we improvise everyday! Improvised Comedy teaches us to roll with the punches and most importantly, laugh. A Nurse’s day is always unpredictable. One minute you are talking to your patient; the next moment you are doing chest compressions on your patient to save his or her life. You quickly learn to adapt. You learn to “Yes, And” as situations unfold right before your eyes. YES, my patient went into cardiac arrest AND I am going to grab that defibrillator… STAT.

The power of Improv!

Fast forward four years and a global pandemic later, I am still learning so much at Held2gether! Recently, I was invited to participate in Held2gether’s online sketch comedy show, HeldApart.  Being a featured player in HeldApart really pushed me at a personal level.  Before I was a working professional taking Improv classes after work. After joining HeldApart I finally realized – I am also an Improviser. Learning to write sketches, create characters, and video edit, gave me the confidence to realize I can be creative! The best part of HeldApart was developing my character Aunty Ji. This “Indian Matchmaker Aunty” character really helped me get through 2020. As a South Asian, creating this character and building her story was liberating. Aunty Ji was inspired by every sassy South Asian Aunty I encountered in my life. She gave me the opportunity to tell stories from my upbringing and most importantly she allowed me to share insight about my culture.

In conclusion, to anyone who is reading this, Improv is a life changing experience. As a nurse, Improv gave me the confidence to become a better public speaker. On a personal level, Improv has helped me to be more comfortable within my skin.The saying that “laughter is the best medicine” is a true statement. I have seen a lot as a Nurse and as a child of immigrants but now I know that despite all of life’s challenges, one can always find “the funny”. All we have to do is “Yes, And” to life.

The Mental Health Benefits of Improv by Jude Trederwolff

Where an improviser is going, there are no roads, only possibilities. The stage is an empty space that becomes anything at all. A choice is made and another one builds upon it, creating a world that only exists in the collective imagination of the players and the audience. For example, a player sits facing another player, also seated, leaning on an elbow as if there is a table between them. “Sorry I couldn’t take you to someplace a little nicer than this run-down old diner,” he says, then motions to a corner of the stage and tosses an imaginary quarter to his partner. “Go play a couple songs on the juke box.” “A real life juke box? From the olden days?” the other player responds, revealing that this character is much younger. “Yup, like in the olden days, when your mom and I went out on dates before you were born,” the first player says. Now we know they are a father and son. Their tone of voice, eye contact, and physicality establishes a dynamic. This simple, brief interaction is the heart of a human story generated by people having an impact on one another. We see this happen in real time.

An improvised story is created at the same time it is told. The players discover the dynamic along with the audience. The improviser’s skills use emotion, action and imagination to produce a story, characters, props — and a world — out of thin air. This rich creative experience is powerfully satisfying to the brain, which feasts on the activity and the joy of discovering moments and scenes that range from wildly comic to wonderfully compelling. The process of brain-to-brain and social-emotional interaction makes improvisation training uniquely effective for strengthening the capacity to cope with uncertainty, manage anxiety and boost the creative thinking that is so essential to navigating an increasingly complex world.

What makes improvisation delightful to experience also gives it a degree of difficulty that sounds intimidating to many people. Deep listening, focused attention, and openness to others’ require effort, emotional risk, and engagement. “When learning is challenging, you have to pay more and better attention to each idea, causing your brain to build stronger connections between neural networks, which embeds the new knowledge for later recall,” write Mary Slaughter and David Rock in Fast Company’s “No Pain, No Brain Gain: Why Learning Demands (A Little) Discomfort. “ When an experience has just enough discomfort to trigger the brain’s natural problem-solving capacity — just not so much that the prefrontal cortex shuts down — it stimulate a lovely burst of dopamine, the brain chemistry associated with reward that is linked to motivation and learning. Add to that the laughter and social bonds generated by this kind of imaginative interaction and we have all the elements of a healthy change-promoting process.

In the workplace wellness programs I design and run, all the classes use Applied Improvisation to deliver a concept folded into a creative, socially-rewarding experience. The program’s objective is to give employees information and tools that are inexpensive, accessible and effective for better health. In real terms, this means providing tools for change. To give something up — like smoking or sugar — or take something up — like exercise or meditation — can be difficult and fraught with ambiguity. We may want the benefits of the change but not feel up to its challenges. A balance of readiness for the discomfort that is an inevitable part of any transition and skills to get through it are necessary to sustain the change.

Our aim is to try to shift the mindset of people who fear or dread the hard parts of a change process. In one of our classes — “Say Yes To Something New” — we do 2 simple improv games to explore another way to think about change. A game called Radical Acceptance has each participant name 3 things in a random category — animals, colors, chain restaurants — and the entire group shouts “yes” after each thing is named. Then we complicate it just a little. A player is assigned a category. A partner does mot some kind of movement, anything at all and not intended to resemble any actual thing, and the player names that movement in the category after which the group again shouts “yes.” The purpose of this games is threefold:

  1. provide a jolt of positive emotion from a vocally supportive and enthusiastic group response to the execution of a simple task;

Just playing this game transforms what are often a tired, disconnected group of employees into a team rooting for other people they hardly know, if at all. We want to rapidly and dramatically demonstrate that the “new” can wake up both our thinking and emotional brain in a positive way, redirecting the dread and inevitable doubling down into resistance to playful curiosity and a sense of experimentation.

This “yes” exercise is an expression of wholesale acceptance. It is not about approval or judgment. It is, in fact an exercise in approaching the unknown from what is the opposite of fear and dread. The “yes” of improvisation is a connection with what is. A radical acceptance of what is offered. To live in that mindset is to bring the full force of our intellect, emotion and spirit to the moment, which expands our field of awareness so we can build on what is offered, to respond consciously and creatively. “Yes” is an acknowledgement of what is. The “and” is how we shape the next step.

The next game is “This Is Not An Umbrella” in which participants have to transform an umbrella into some other object — swing it like a golf club, carry it like a bouquet of roses, write with it as if it is a pen for a giant. Again, this asks them to do something and somewhat performative, but not so much that the task is overwhelming. This “goldilocks” combination of challenge and unequivocal support is an ideal delivery system for ideas and information. It is therapeutic and change-inducing through engagement that is both simple and fun and sophisticated in terms of its impact on the brain and mind.

Improv training emphasizes the mutually positive embrace of other peoples’ ideas and responses, which can rapidly defuse the anxiety that is an undeniable part of stepping into the unknown, no matter how benign. The openness and receptivity generated by positive experiences expands the field of awareness that enhances our ability to make connections between ideas and make meaning. This translates into greater adaptability and resilience in the face of stress, and receptivity to ideas that we can use to shape our lives in new ways. The fact that we do it together, as a collective, heightens the likelihood we will absorb new information. “The brain is the organ that learns, so it is designed to be changed by your experiences,” writes Rick Hansen of UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good Center, in How To Grow The Good In Your Brain. “Intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity — especially if it is conscious — will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. In the saying in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which is a hot area of research these days.” In his book Brain Rules molecular biologist John Medina explains that “when the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post It note that reads ‘remember this.’”

2017 study published in the Journal of Mental Health looked at improvisation exercises as a therapeutic intervention and found significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and reduction of perfectionism — which is a significant source of stress. We apply this knowledge in our wellness class “Changing Mindsets” in which we use games like “Awkward Family Photos” and “World’s Worst” to explore the power of our social networks to shape our behaviors, habits and sense of self. In Awkward Family Photos, group members sit together as a family with a very definable way of being and connection, e.g. a family of cheerleaders, or a family of cat-lovers. Then we add another level of complexity to the family photos, e.g. a family that is extremely competitive, or intellectual, or videogamers. Then we discuss what it would be like for someone from the videogamer family to join the intellectual family, or someone from the cheerleader family to join the cat-lovers. What is it like to join a group that requires us to behave in a way very different from what we have done in the past to belong? What can each character bring with him/her to the new group? What will have to change completely? The issue of belonging is central to the the change process. Beliefs are linked to belonging, which shape our perceptions, all of which power or paralyze our capacity to make change.

The Applied Improv games we use in wellness classes and therapy groups have all the elements that make improvisation look like magic when performed onstage. Through adding details about character and setting to what another player offers, improvisers create a world together. Their commitment to the imagined reality ignites the imagination of observers, who enter a world that is invisible by any rational standard. To co-create an imagined reality with no script nor external direction nor guarantee of success, an improviser relies on a set of thinking and relationship skills that fine-tune the ability to communicate ideas clearly, rapidly assess what others are communicating and respond in ways that support and expand on those ideas. This method that relies on imagination and collaboration to create an entirely invisible world teaches us a mindset and toolkit for coping with the reality we share in daily life.

Rediscovering Myself Through Improv by Agnes Chan

Improv has been a great outlet/hobby/activity/distraction, all of the above, for me as a mom.  After the birth of my second child, I fell into a postpartum rut.  I loved my kids, but I felt so lost about who I was aside from them.  I started browsing through the local Parks and Rec magazine looking for an enrichment class.  Between Line Dancing and How to Have a Conversation I found Held2gether: Improv for Life.  Improv was the perfect way for me to escape and do some acting minus the homework.  Then, one short year later, I was forced to take a break from everything due to some scary pregnancy complications.  Thankfully, this baby made it and I’m now the mother of 3 beautiful children who are 9-, 7-, and 4-years-old.  My little one did continue to scare us with a couple of medical issues during the first two months of his life.  After his first birthday, when we knew we were in the clear, I could finally breathe and started craving something for myself again.  So, I came back to Held2gether and started with the Sketch Writing Class.  I wanted to do something creative, but was nervous about being on stage.  The Sketch Writing Class was perfect because I could “perform” from behind my computer.

 

Since then, I’ve gotten my stage legs back, went on to perform live improv, participated in several scripted Sketch Shows, and was even part of Held2gether’s first scripted show, “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues,” which was a very heavy dark comedy dealing with sexual assault.  Like any other play, this required homework and memorizing lines, but I was ready for it.  I was in a place where I could dive deep into my character’s dreams and struggles.  It felt so empowering channeling my emotions into this scripted play that paralleled many of today’s headlines.  It was a far cry from my usual shows like Paw Patrol and My Little Pony.  For the last 9 years, I’ve devoted my life to my three kids.  Like many parents, we lose ourselves to raise our kids.  It’s important and necessary work, but I lost myself.  I still help with my kids’ schools and different non-profit Mommy groups, but I’m ready to discover who I am again aside from being a mom.  I’m so grateful to Held2gether for putting on local theater productions to give me a chance to express myself here in Long Beach without having to drive two hours each way to Hollywood.  Because, let’s be honest.  I just don’t have time for that with my three kids.  As much as I want a life of my own, my kids are still a big part of me.

 

I Think I Just ‘Yessed’ Myself by Sarah Pinsky

Four years after my first workshop, I’ve realized all the conversations I never gave myself permission to have and the connection I once avoided out of fear are there on stage. Though I might still prefer to hide in the audience, improv pushes me to meet my own internal challenges. Uncomfortable emotions and foreign topics are open for exploration.

As for everyday life and “sane” people: eventually the line between it all blurred. Life seeped into improv and improv into life. I find myself slipping into characters and games in regular conversation. Now, my mom suggests sketch ideas. My dad creates characters. Timid friends let their goofiness show. Other people play along naturally, just as eager to share bits of their unexpressed personality and to connect through play.

After spending my life feeling subject to the world around me, saying “yes” to improv has given me courage to be myself and agency to shape my world.

Learning Improv Can Help Lawyers by Zarina Hora

When I first started taking improv classes over five years ago, I had no idea how it would change me. I love surprises and improv continues to give me little, cherished gifts that pop up out of the blue.  I knew that improv would give me a new skill, but not a new community. I knew that I would be pretending to be other people, but didn’t realize that in doing that, I’d learn how to be myself. Oh! I could write a 2000 word essay on how it has changed me as a person, and how it can change you. But for the sake of brevity, I will be focusing on how it helped with my career as an attorney.  Like so many of the other benefits of doing improv comedy, improving my professional skills through improv was an unanticipated but welcomed gift.

 

 

It will Make you a Better Speaker

The number 1 fear of people is public speaking. Now imagine, speaking when you haven’t learned a script, memorized a speech or even know what you will be speaking about until you are on stage. That’s what improv is. And that has carried over to the courtroom. I find myself better able to respond to unanticipated questions from the judge or arguments from my opposing counsel that I was not prepared for. I am able to think quicker on my feet and all of this has made me a much better litigator.

 

With improv, you will learn that if you plan, premeditate and have too much of an agenda, your scene will not go over well. How do you learn not to anticipate? You have to be present, young grasshopper.  Learning to be in the moment has helped me respond thoroughly, genuinely and organically in the courtroom- often resulting in a thoughtful response that people find persuasive.

 

It will Make you a Better Listener.

One of the skills that you learn in improv is to listen to your scene partners. If you listen well, you will be able to respond with an observation that heightens the scene and can lead to hilarity. The better you listen, the better you will improvise.

Lawyers love to hear themselves speak. It’s irritating. I have heard lawyers yell over each other in the courtroom and are constantly focusing on what they want to say.  But by learning how to listen better, I hear the arguments my opponent is spouting as opposed to just thinking about my response. Ironically,  by listening better, I am able to poke holes in their argument or come up with a compromise that works in all parties favor.

 

It will Make you a Better Networker

Whether you are interviewing for a new job, or have to wine and dine business executives on a regular basis- Improv can help. First, as above, improv can make you a better listener which makes you likeable. It also can make you funnier, witty  and more entertaining. All things that make you likeable. And Let’s be honest since most lawyer jokes end up with the lawyer being dead- we could use all the help we can get in the likeability department. Now, don’t get me wrong, people still don’t like me, but I’d like to think improv has made me a little more tolerable to others.

 

It also gives you something to talk about other than law. People hate “talking shop”- even at professional events.  Lawyers are notorious for not having balance. Pity the person that is at a job interview and can’t come up with an answer to “What are your hobbies?”  Unlike your children (people really don’t want to hear about your kids. No really. Just stop talking about them) or the weather,  it sparks an interesting,  honest conversation that isn’t mundane or ordinary. It’s the antithesis to small talk.  Most people don’t know what  improv comedy even is so they will ask follow up questions: “So you mean, you do stand up?” And then you have to explain (for the umpteenth time) that, no, improv is not the same thing as stand up..and voila! You are now great at engaging others in interesting conversation. Improv sets you apart  and makes you memorable because it is such a unique hobby.  I wouldn’t suggest going into improv just to become less dull- but it was one of the surprising consequences I  soon realized when I told people I perform improv in my spare time.

 

It’s truly a Team Sport

Lawyers aren’t exactly known for being laid back. We probably had messed up childhoods where we learned to equate love with achievement and thus, we are competitive. When you become a lawyer, you are constantly trying to “win” an argument, motion, or trial.  Improv gives you a break from all that competition in a way that sports and even theatre could never do for me.

With musical theatre, you have to audition with others, get rejected, and  Ms. Dune always gives the lead to Lauren Torres anyways so what’s the point of even auditioning? Oh, sorry….that was my highschool experience.  But with improv- there is none of that competitive stuff. To become good at improv, you actually have to play as a team. In fact, those that constantly try to “have their  moment” often don’t do well at improv. As I have honed my improv skills, I have learned to play and work  better  with others-  both on and off the stage!

You never know what your role is going to be until you are in a scene and you all work together. There are no solos. No stars. And No leads. Sometimes, you have to support others taking center stage and other times, you have to take the reigns and drive the scene. It changes by the moment and I think that’s what I love about it.

 

 

It Will Help You Take Risks and Fail

You essentially fail almost every time you do an improv scene in one way or another. You can’t think of what to say, you don’t listen to your partner, or you make a joke that lands flat.

But the more you fail in improv, the better you get. And when you catch your fails on stage while performing and call it out,  it turns into a joke. Everyone laughs. You feel great. And you are  ready to fail again! I failed so much that I can honestly say I am not afraid to fail in other areas of my life.

By learning how to take risks and fail with improv, I started taking more risks with my career. And yes, sometimes I failed. Fail. Try again. Fail. Fail. Succeed. Try something else. Fail. Fail. Succeed. That’s my trajectory these days. Recently,  the willingness to fail has actually led me to have the courage to leave a very secure job and start my own firm because I saw the potential.  I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?  My colleagues and associates will laugh at me!” …um, I pretended to be a broom with a hangover at improv class, last week. I can handle people laughing. Well, turns out that scary risk ended up being the best decision I have made in my life. In part, I think years of improv beforehand made me more comfortable with failing and trying something new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways Improv Can Unlock Your Inner Child by Nelli Veletyan

Growing up, I’d play pretend constantly. Whether I was hosting a royal ball in my bedroom or singing to a crowd of thousands from our apartment balcony (deepest apologies to our neighbors), playing pretend helped me explore, imagine, and get creative––while also providing an escape.

I know I’m not alone in this. Playing pretend as a child isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, I’d bet most everyone did it. The real question is: with all the benefits it has to offer, why do we ever stop?

Something happens when we get older that makes us believe playing pretend just isn’t a ‘grown up’ thing to do. Societal pressure? Lack of time? Fear of being judged? Well I’m here to say: f*ck all that. Playing pretend is for everybody––ånd it’s really freakin’ good for you.

So, how do you jump back into the land of make-believe as an adult? The answer is simple: improv.

 

Unleash your imagination.

When we play pretend as kids, we get to be anyone, anywhere, doing anything we want––the options are only limited by the boundaries of our imagination. A jellyfish at a job interview? You got it. A princess lost in an underground jungle? Yes please. A superhero that can shoot fruit roll-ups out of their eyeballs? Sure, why the heck not?

But unfortunately as we get older, our wild imagination often gets stashed away, replaced instead by predictability and routine. Days start to look the same and blend together. Coffee, work, dinner, repeat. Boriiiiing. Meanwhile, our imagination is buried under a zillion errand and bill-related cobwebs begging to be rescued, dusted off, and put to good use.

Improv provides an outlet for tapping into your imagination on the regular. Every scene is a new opportunity to build entire worlds, try on different characters, and spin up unlikely circumstances alongside other improvisers.

Plus, there’s no room for routine in improv––it’s all made up on the spot so you have no idea what’ll happen next. This way, you’re pulled right out of the dull and predictable and thrown into practicing a flexible mindset that’ll prep you for just about anything that might come up in your everyday life (cough, cough… pandemic, anyone?).

 

Get silly.

Think back to your childhood self. Did you dance around without reason? Try out a funny voice to make people laugh? Pull goofy pranks on unassuming siblings? I know I did. Now, take a moment to reflect––when was the last time you took part in an act of complete and absolute silliness?

Been a while? That’s okay, the good news is improv is all about making big, bold, and silly choices. Maybe you’re in a scene as a talking alarm clock who’s tired of ringing. Or perhaps you’re an alien that only speaks in three-word phrases. Or an archaeologist that’s just discovered a rare species of heart-shaped dinosaurs. No matter the choices you make––you’ll be pushed to think outside the box and get comfortable laughing at yourself. What’s more, you’ll have scene partners supporting you with their own silly choices the whole way through. In fact, don’t be surprised if the talking alarm clock and alien somehow end up in the very same scene. (Yes, really)

 

Silence your self-doubt.

If you’ve spent any time around kids, you know that they hardly ever think twice before whatever they have to say has made it out of their mouth. For better or worse, kids don’t filter themselves. If they have something to say, they say it, committed and proud. But somewhere along the way, we start to second guess everything that runs through our minds. Will people think it’s funny? Will I sound smart? Will anyone even care?

Luckily, in improv, there’s technically no such thing as a wrong choice. If what comes out of your mouth makes no sense whatsoever, it’s still the right thing to say as long as you do so with confidence. It’s a test in believing in yourself and your scene partners and knowing that whatever comes next will be great as long as you don’t hesitate to commit to the information you’ve shared.

 

Tune in to the moment.

Kids live in the here and now. They don’t spend a ton of time thinking about how a play date went last week or planning where they’ll go for next year’s summer break. They’re in tune with the present and excited about what’s happening exactly where they are in that moment.

As an improviser, no matter how much you tend to live in the past or future in your day-to-day (sound familiar?)––you’re challenged to let that line of thinking go when you’re on stage. Why? Because a core tenet of improv is active listening. To successfully ‘Yes, and’ a scene partner’s choices, you have to listen, make eye contact, and stay fully present. If your mind starts to wander, you might miss critical information you need to keep the scene moving. That means your brain isn’t stuck ruminating or thinking ahead, it’s actively engaged in the present moment.

 

Embrace your emotions.

When kids are feeling something, you can see it all over their face.  They cry when they’re sad. They cry when they’re hurt. They cry even when there’s really nothing to cry about.

And the thing is, adults do too. We just happen to be a bit quieter about it. Well, a lot quieter. We hold back our feelings to avoid being vulnerable. If we show that we’re sad, we fear looking weak. If we feel happy, we start to wonder how long it’ll last before something terrible comes along to balance things out.

Improv challenges you to get out of your emotional comfort zone. When you get up on stage, you’re taking a giant leap of vulnerability and putting trust in your scene partners to have your back as you try on disappointment, shock, joy, fear, excitement, and every emotion in between. And they’re trusting you to do the same.

And sometimes, what you might be feeling under the surface can help fuel some of your emotional choices on stage. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing––see it for what it is, an opportunity to channel your emotions into something fun and ridiculous to help work through them, rather than bottling them up.

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So, whether you’re 18 or 88, there’s a whole made-up world out there waiting for you. I encourage you to keep on playing, pretending, and embracing the silly, there’s more than enough of it to go around––and your inner child will most definitely thank you for it.

 

Want to give improv a try? Take a peek at our event schedule to sign up for our next free workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Became More than That…by Cael Schwartzman

I first signed up for a Held2gether improv class to do something terrifying. I wanted to find a sort of rush that both scares the sh** out of me and also keeps me coming back for more. After my very first Level 1 class with Instructor Kendra, I realized that I had found the rush, only it wasn’t one of fear, but of fun! The kind of fun you didn’t think you were allowed to have as an adult. Being as silly and weird and goofy as possible in front of others, instead of proper and professional and safe. It was exactly what I was looking for – a place to escape the monotony. 

Our one homework assignment for that first class was to go see a Held2gether show. The first show I saw was a Hot Java show that just so happened to be the 5-year anniversary show for the troupe. There was a huuuge audience. The troupe obviously put on an amazing and inspiring performance, but then the Hot Java owner, Ken, came out with a big ol’ cake. Speeches were given byKenand by Darren through happy tears of gratitude and love for the past 5 years of bringing all of these people together. I saw that this was more than just some fun class. It was a community.

Throughout the years to follow I took all the classes I could and then repeated them all again and again! I wasn’t about to let the fun end just because there’s no Level 4 or 5 class! Through this process I was able to meet just about every single member of this community. And let me tell you… that is one amazing and diverse group of absolute weirdos! Then, one of those random Friday or Saturday evenings, I was walking along that Bixby Knolls sidewalk. I headed through those automatic sliding doors and through that looong Expo room that’s so big and dark and empty that you’re constantly second guessing yourself –  “wait, the show is tonight, right?” I slipped through those unassuming double doors in the back, into a room absolutely packed full of familiar faces eager to give everyone who walks through the biggest hug they’ve ever given, I realized that the word “community” no longer fit. This was a family. A home away from home. 

And then COVID-19 hit. We were all stuck inside hiding from each other and the world, except for the quick run to a grocery store with a mask on our face and a glimmer of hope in our eye – hope that just this once, there might still be a pack of toilet paper waiting for us on the shelf. The lockdown affected everyone differently, but not that differently. Anxiety, depression, anger… it felt like we were going through those fabled 5 stages of grief at the loss of our old lives; the loss of the world we knew just yesterday; the loss of the world with all of our old hopes and dreams and goals. Everyone had to find a way to reset. 

And reset we did! Held2gether quickly and seamlessly pivoted to the online sketch series – HeldApart. Suddenly I had new things going on every day. I had to quickly learn lighting, camera angles, “acting”, writing, editing, and directing for isolatedly filmed sketches. My mind was focused on creating for the next episode rather than the isolation and impending doom of the pandemic. Being in the YouTube chat room while watching each episode feels just like walking into that room in the back of the expo. The whole family is there! Giving each other the biggest virtual hug we can. Held2gether truly is improv for life, and in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh… finds a way…” 

RAMBLINGS OF A HUMBLE NERD by Neil Matsuzaki

As a human being of the nerd persuasion, I sometimes don’t know what is and isn’t a reference I can throw into an improv scene.  Thanks to superhero movies, the widespread acceptance of video games, and TV shows like “Game of Thrones”, nerdy knowledge is more accepted than ever and it might seem like I should be fine being Spock and saying “Live long and prosper,” in a scene.  And while this is true to a certain extent, I still sometimes grapple with the line between the colloquially accepted Batman reference and the super obscure Moon Knight one.  

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, I can be caught clueless when it comes to most contemporary pop culture.  More than once in a scene, I’ve been staring down the barrel of having to be a musician or movie star that I only have the most fleeting of ideas at who they might be.  

So why are you bringing all this up you may ask? Well, you probably didn’t ask that, you’re probably just reading this like a normal person.  I’m sorry for being presumptive.  But I bring this up because it has come to my attention that I’m not alone in this.  Maybe not specifically the nerd culture stuff, but that we’re all individuals and have our own separate interests that may or may not overlap.  And that’s okay.  

No one can know everything…or at least, I’m pretty sure that no one knows everything.  But we do the next best thing.  We cobble together what we can out of context clues and vague memories and run with it.  By “Yes and-ing” each other and staying in the scene, we can continue, no matter what curveballs are thrown our way.  And for audience members who do know, they’re just happy the reference is there.  Are we gonna mangle it?  Probably.  But is it gonna be entertaining?  Well that’s a solid maybe!!  

And if you’ve ever been to an improv show where I was in the audience, you’ve heard me in the audience yell out “Mad Max Thunderdome” or “Jedi and apprentice” because I want to mix it up.  How many times have we heard “siblings” for a relationship?  Or a “kitchen” for a location?  If we shout out the crazy things we would normally keep to ourselves because they’re too “weird” we could explore a whole new side to our improv.  

I guess what I’m saying is, go for it.  And I need to internalize this more myself, to be honest.  Depending on the suggestion (especially with time periods when I think about it) I sometimes use my ignorance as an excuse and become afraid to add information.  But when I shout out “Klingon Blood Brothers” as a relationship at a show, I don’t need the players to know about bat’leths and birds-of-prey.  In fact it’s probably more entertaining if they have no idea about Klingon culture and focus on what is going on with these Blood Brothers as opposed to if I got the suggestion and exposited about the Sword of Kahless and its significance in DS9.

Now that I think about it, how often have I been given a time period, and the first thing I did was try to make as many timely references as I could rather than establishing the things that matter to the scene.  Maybe I need to stop worrying about what I don’t know, and live in the scene that’s in front of me.

Well dear reader, thank you for listening to the ramblings of this humble nerd.  Just by being there as a sounding board, I’ve gained some insights on myself, and for that, I thank you.