About ten years ago I took a series of improv classes at the local community college. At the time I had a new baby and my husband and I shared one car, which he used to commute to his 12+ hour job. We were living in a townhouse development where the only place I could walk to was a grocery store. Getting out of the house one night a week for the class was pure bliss. Truthfully, I could have taken a class on reading the phone book out loud at that point in my life and still felt deliciously rebellious about my time away from my responsibilities.
Even though improv is all about making things up in the moment, there is one hard and fast rule: Always say yes to whatever is put out there. You cannot say no. “No” stops the action. In fact, to move action forward what you say, often literally, is “Yes. And…” For example, you come running out on stage and say, “I am being chased by angry space penguins.” Now, maybe the scene was originally about an anniversary dinner and now you’ve gone completely in a new direction with the bit about the penguins. If I break the rule of “Yes…and” and instead say no, here’s what happens:
Saying no is a great way to bring things to a grinding halt.
But what if I use the golden rule of improve and say “Yes. And…” instead?You: I’m being chased by angry space penguins.
Notice that the beginning of our story didn’t change – it was still a roadblock to the initial concept of going out to dinner for our anniversary but by embracing the change instead of outright rejecting it, we still moved the story forward.
*I have a day job that I can’t quit. Yes. And I’m writing my novel fifteen minutes at a time every evening.
*I can’t sit still long enough to meditate. Yes. And I’m learning techniques for moving meditations.
*I live in a town with no real music scene. Yes. And I’m starting my own house concert series so I can play for people.
*I can’t afford art lessons. Yes. And I’m watching Youtube videos as a way to learn some new techniques that I can teach myself.
You get the idea. “No” stops us in our tracks while “yes” moves us forward even with the same set of circumstances. It’s really all about how you look at it.