It took me a while to understand “Yes, and…” as a rule, in both improv and life. That’s not to say the rule is complicated, in fact, it’s very simple in concept. When we apply “Yes, and…” in improv, we simply take the ideas of others, accept them in their entirety and add to them. For example,you may start a scene like this:

“I’m digging a hole.”

“Yes, and I’m filling it with water.”

“Ah, Yes, and I’ll order some fish online for it.”

“Wonderful, Yes, and I’m going to get some plants for the pond.”

This is the basic principle of the “Yes, and rule…”. However, when you break it down it can get a lot more complicated. For example, what does it mean to accept something? Do I have to be happy about something to accept it? Does my character have to be glad if a situation has arisen that upsets them? If he gets angry or upset about another character’s viewpoint or opinion, is he not “Yes and”-ing them?

The “and” portion is just as difficult to pin point. In adding to someone else’s idea, we have to ask,  what can be considered constructive?

The questions are endless and maddening. However, the idea of “Yes and…” should be understood less in the specifics and more as a philosophy. The way we view others ideas, thoughts, feelings and opinions should be open,honest, constructive and accepting. 

“Yes, and…” in Improv

Improvisers who truly understand this principle perform very differently. “Yes and…” becomes more about their attitude to the performer, not what is being said. These improvisers will treat everyone they perform with as if the ideas the other performers have brought to the scene are the most genius things they’ve ever heard and they will take up the position they think best compliments it.

If I come in as the grumpy postman who thinks this job is the worst, you may “yes, and…” me by coming in as a chipper newbie who is enthralled by this job. Alternatively, you might come in as a similarly bedraggled postman and we may spend the scene complaining to each other about the state of the postal service and the horrendous state of the world at large. As long as the logic behind your character is principally based on my offer of a grumpy postman then you can have your own creative freedom to add and build upon whatever excites you.

“Yes and…” In life

People feel just as limited at times with the “Yes, and…”principle in the real world. They think it encourages passive acceptance of situations and others ideas and never once discouraging others ideas even if they are wildly impractical. Again, what I learnt through the practice of improv and the internalisation of these rules is in reality the acceptance of an idea,doesn’t mean agreement with it. I may accept you have a gun and want to shoot me but I don’t have to claim that’s a good thing.  Rather, improv teaches us to find in situations potential that we can use to build an idea or solution out of.

Say someone comes to me and says they want to fly to the moon/I could easily list to that person the many reasons that that is impossible. I could tell them that they don’t have the training, the time, the career path,the funding and much more. Alternatively, I could build from what they do have,and explore what’s possible. We could discuss their drive and their ambition. I could help them look for qualifications that might help them on their way.  This way, I am building WITH them rather than simply smashing down the dreams they currently held. This is “Yes, and…”

“Yes, and…” is a life-changing phrase

The day I learnt what “Yes, and…” truly meant, my improv skills massively improved. I found it easier to be supportive in scenes, found creating collaboratively far more fun and exciting, and found myself a less selfish performer.However, it helped me in life as well. It helped me try to build up more people around me, be more positive toward others and more productive to their, and my, goals and dreams.

I hope you can find the power of “Yes, and too…”

Joe Thompson

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