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…”