"Yes and..." is the unofficial definition of Improv. It's thrilling to read about this early discovery in the collection of interviews with the pioneers of American Improv in the book, Something Wonderful Right Away*. Elaine May recalls how they came to understand that agreement by the actors in an improv is a good tool to move the action forward.
Yet there is a dark side of "Yes and.."
Yes And... At Work When my company, Fratelli Bologna, began teaching the theories of improvisation at business conferences and 'off-sites' in the early 90s we found that businesses loved the collaborative nature of "Yes and...".
One company embraced the 'Yes and.." philosophy so much that they had buttons printed and distributed to everyone worked at the company. Everyone at the company was wearing a button that carried only two words: 'yes and'.
The management mindset was clear: encourage (push) the workers to adopt managements strategies. Imagine being in a meeting where a new project schedule is proposed. You might offer an insight into a legitimate reason the schedule is overly optimistic and your boss looks back at you, smiles and points to the "yes, and" button on his or her jacket.
From a management point of view this seems perfect, doesn't it?
Even among very experienced improvisers "Yes...and" can be a challenge.
Yes And... Off Stage Not long ago I was in a meeting about a program at my improv company and one person at the meeting pointedly reminded me that we are an Improv company and our job is to "Yes And" each other. And by this....I was being told that my job was to "yes and" his/her proposed program not bring my critical thinking skills into the discussion.
Yes And... in Class In another example I was teaching in class and we were experimenting with short scenes that started with only positive interactions. Two actors start a scene with 30 seconds of positive energy and interactions (healthy, fit and where they want to be). If they were able to get through 30 seconds of avoiding all negativity then the scene would turn into a 'murder scene' with one character killing the other. Murder is a frequent theme in drama and it also let's the actors connect with each other as they 'discover' who will be the killer and who will be the victim. **
After several successful scene and deaths, two actors successfully reached the 30 second mark and were told that one could murder the other. And one tried. But the other deflected, argued and eventually began to physically struggle with the other....so no one was murdered. The murder was attempted again....and again deflected. I stopped the scene and we discussed the fun of being the one who gets to do the dying ...and that the exercise was designed to end with a murder. The game then was to see if the actors could agree on who was going to be the murderer and who was going to be the victim in the moment.
Armed with this perspective, the actors tried the scene again...with the same 'struggling no murder' results.
Both actors came to me after the workshop and complained that the other actor wasn't "Yes Anding!"
Yes And... it's about You "Yes and" is a short phrase that carries a big idea. The idea is working together to create a piece of theater. Collaboration is integral to the 'creative process'. When it is used as feedback for others it's a punishment, a little jab, an attack. Attacks don't encourage the creative process. "Yes and" is more useful as a self-assessment inquiry than feedback for someone else.
Have you experienced the dark side of Yes And?
--------- *Something Wonderful Right Away, by Jeffrey Sweet is a collection of interview with performers from The Compass Players and The Second City. The stories are fascinating and revealing. They are an insight into the challenges of building a theater philosophy and culture. Many of the challenges of Improv remain the same.
**This exercise was created by Diane Rachael. Diane is a very talented improviser with the BATS Improv company in San Francisco. She has performed and taught improv around the world.