I was not a fan of the idea of "Yes, And" when I took my first improv class. In fact, I wasn't sold on improv itself, either. I had been working for a comedy theater (my first comedic love was stand-up) and the theater owner basically told me that he was giving me a free run in the class and wanted me to take it, so I figured, why not?
But I still wasn't sold on the idea of "Yes, And," which is the basis of improv.
"Yes, And" is building. It is working with someone else and creating something that never existed before. You can't script out "Yes, And," like I was used to with stand-up, and there isn't a "knowing" of where you will end up with "Yes, And" because other people are making choices in the process, too. It felt too open. It was scary.
I didn't want to have to always agree or be positive. In fact, I wanted to be a "No, But," person. I mean, I had gone to law school -- "no, but" is basically a lawyer's mantra. But them's the rules -- in your first few improv classes and most of your improv comedy life, you "Yes, And."
But "Yes, And," I quickly found out, isn't about blindly agreeing with the choices the other people on stage with you are making. It is about listening to them, and finding a way to build on what they have presented you. "Yes, And" is accepting their offer and finding a nugget that is interesting or has room for growth. It has rules and structure that you would never necessarily know if you weren't an improvisor. And all of that -- the freedom to choose what to build on, the knowledge that if you are listening to them your scene partners are listening to you, too and want to build WITH you, and the structure that exists to support you -- becomes way less frightening the more you practice it, and, in fact, quite freeing.
Over the last 12 years, "Yes, And" has become a fundamental piece of my life. Learning to build with people and teach them how to embrace these ideas is part of why I get up in the morning.
And when you extrapolate "Yes, And" out into life, it has so many skills and lessons to teach us.
Including a very basic one: be open to collaboration. What you can build with others is always more than what you can build alone.
So, who are you collaborating with today?