Performers in local comedy sketch show talk about their experiences

As LB Playhouse, Held2gether comedy debuts for this weekend only, two cast members reflect on challenges rehearsing, being moms


Courtesy Agnes Arnold

Pictured, from left: Agnes Arnold, Cael Schwartzman and Sarah Pinsky rehearsing for Sketches 11

When local theater performer Zarina Hora witnessed improvisation group Held2gether’s sketch comedy show for the first time three years ago, she knew it was something she wanted to be a part of.

“It is so fun to see a sketch take life and be born,” said Hora, who, this year, is now fulfilling her goal by performing on-stage in Sketches 11 instead of spectating from the audience seats. “Every sketch begins as an idea that we present to the director. There are barely any lines. And to see it transform into a full script and scene with costumes and characters is just amazing.”

As reported last week by the Signal Tribune, Long Beach Playhouse is teaming with improv-comedy program group Held2gether– Improv for Life this weekend for a production of Sketches 11, a collection of original comedy stories.

Hora, who has been taking improv classes with Held2gether for about three to four years, said she was invited last year to be a part of the comedy group’s official troupe.

But her passion to perform wouldn’t come without its struggles. Literally days after her now 5-week-old son was born, she jumped right into rehearsal.
“Everyone thought I was nuts to start this sketch class two days after my due date,” Hora said. “I ended up doing the first two classes very pregnant, and then [I] had to attend class with my newborn at home, all the while recovering from a C-section.”

Hora said she had made a promise to herself to not abandon her ambitions– her identity– when she became a mom.

“I left my son after his first week of birth to go to class,” Hora said. “I pumped at rehearsals. I think it’s very important to keep one’s identity during motherhood. I promised myself I would not lose myself when I became a mother, and being involved in this class was something I was deadset on doing to force myself to keep doing what I love. And I am so proud to say that I have been committed to that– literally from day one of my child’s birth. I think it sets a very important example for my son to keep going after your passions and to keep balance in your life.”

Being the sixth annual collaboration between the Long Beach theatrical entities, the sketch compilation debuted Thursday, Feb. 28, and will continue until Saturday, March 2, in the Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Sketch 11 performers responded to the Signal Tribune’s questions last week about the show, which boasts 11 skits that depict universal relationships, outrageous characters, music, pop culture and parodies of the time.

“It’s so thrilling seeing something we create from scratch being produced in eight short weeks,” said performer Agnes Arnold. “Since Held2gether is an improv school, the annual sketch show is so different from everything else, because we have costumes, music, and it’s at the Long Beach Playhouse. We spend many hours together, with rehearsals going past midnight into tomorrow. But, that strengthens our friendships, as we make each other laugh late into the night.”

Arnold, who grew up in Long Beach and began improv with Held2gether in 2014, also had an experience with pregnancy during her time with the group– although it came with frightful implications. She had to take a break from performing a year after starting, per doctor recommendation, due to pregnancy complications.

“Thankfully, this baby made it, and I’m now the mother of three beautiful children who are 8-, 5- and 3-years-old,” she said. “[My son] 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 out of the woods, I could finally breathe and started craving something for myself again. So, I came back in 2017 […]. Since then, I’ve gotten my stage legs back and am now comfortable performing and not just hiding behind my computer.”

A few years after her pregnancy scare, Arnold is still maintaining the balance between performer and mother.

“For the last eight years, I’ve devoted my life to my three kids,” Arnold said. “Like many parents, we lose ourselves to raise our kids. It’s important and necessary selfless work, but I lost myself. I still help with my kids’ school and different nonprofit mommy groups in Long Beach, 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 up to Hollywood. […] As much as I want a life of my own, my kids are still a big part of me.”

The Sketches 11 cast includes Hora, Arnold, Chris Brennan, Richard Martinez, Sarah Slimmer and Sarah Pinsky. Included as the main-event sketches this season are an American Citizen Class, an unlikely soldier from the Civil War and a disturbing elementary art class.

Sketches 11 Director Darren Held said the objective for the show is to create a collaboration filled with joy and support.

“Then, it’s limitless creativity with people you love [and] creating unforgettable characters and unique premises,” he said.

Held, who is the founder of Held2gether, said the group began 10 years ago as a local parks-and-rec class, eventually “blossoming into a community with a diverse group of people from all backgrounds that apply improv to all parts of their life.”

Tickets for Sketches 11 are $15 Friday and Saturday. They are now available through the box office of the Long Beach Playhouse– 562-494-1014 (press option 1)– or at Performances are 8pm Friday and Saturday– March 1 and March 2. The box office is open Friday and Saturday from 3pm to 8pm.