You can’t run away from this seemingly harmless phrase (sentence?) if you are involved in improv or live within 5 kms of an improv troupe or theater. It’s the building block, it’s the one thing we all agree on, it’s the basis of all our improv work, it’s what will make you most successful, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
I’ve heard and said all of the above. And yet lately, Yes And sounds so mechanical. So un-improv. So cliched. Kumbaya, hold hands, lets all do Yes And. For some time I had been feeling not all is right in my improv world. And then one day while running an improv workshop I asked the participants to sit next to each other and just Yes And each other. One pair caught my attention. Or rather, their conversation:
‘Yes and when we go to the beach we can have ice cream.’
‘Yes and No.’
I almost laughed out loud and held back tears of frustration. Thoughts of jumping off a building occurred. There was an urge to whack the person in front of me repeatedly with a bat for not trying or not getting what I was asking them to do. Yet, at the same time, I felt freed up. We’ve had it wrong for too long. Forget ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink it’. Just wait around the horse. When it looks dehydrated and will do anything to have a sip, when its very survival is at stake, only then point it towards the water. Don’t even walk it to the water. Trust you me, half the horses are not appreciative. So just point. And if it makes the connection, it will gallop towards it. If not, let it die. Whatever. Survival of the willing.
And so, with a body of a dead horse that I need to get rid off, I realized most people approached Yes and with an emotionless OK you say something then I will add something to it attitude. That sounds as exciting as riding the dead horse. And it’s not fun I can assure you. Not that I tried. Let’s just move back to the topic at hand.
So now what? I sat there bewildered and afraid. Afraid that if I speak out, how quickly will I be ostracized from the improv community? I didn’t want to lose my friends. I need them to help me dig a big hole. I can’t do that all alone. So now what? Now what!?
I’ve had one unsatisfactory explanation come to mind. Perhaps it’s because we are missing the spirit behind the words. Yes And – be enthusiastic about the other person’s idea with every inch of your body. Scream ‘Hell Yeah’ to their suggestions and allow your mind to flow and find beautiful links so you can build a story together. Ride into the sunset even if your horse is not breathing anymore.
Now that sounds exhausting! What about my own needs? Maybe they should Yes and my ideas instead. After all, I’m known to be clever and usually come up with really earth shattering setups. And even if I went with that, how do I teach it? How do I get introverts to shout out ‘I want to do what you want to do!’ Without that shouting (at least inside your head), Yes and fails. It becomes ‘Yes and No’.
Perform enough and you will realize there are times where blocking is fine if not the right thing to do. Actors who get along will break rules and still put on an amazing show. And while you are Yes anding everything, others will walk away with the accolades because they are funnier, or cleverer or both. They get handed a dead horse and they find ways to use it as a prop representing something else, ‘hey Salman, come join me in my hot tub’.
Now, like any well written piece, I will give you the answer at the end here. It may be wrong. Who cares? This is so subjective that you can’t really disprove my idea. Besides what happened to Yes Anding me instead? hmmm?
Here it is. Stop dictating it. Stop pushing it down people’s throats. Last time I tried that a horse died. God damn this dead horse man. Just because you’ve found the light, you can’t expect others to understand immediately. They have their own journeys. Stop sounding like a vegan. Focus instead on playing. Let people have fun on stage. Create an environment where they are all comfortable and become bold.
Fun. That’s all it takes and that’s all what great improvisers are doing on stage. Having fun.