What Improv Theatre Taught Me About “Yes, and”

3 years ago







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You’re planning your next vacation. Well, your only vacation this year, which is a pretty big deal because you and your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse haven’t had one in, oh, let’s see - quite a while. It should be a delightful discussion, after all, you’re talking about something you both want and are up for.

 

The conversation goes roughly like this:

            “Let’s go to the beach.”

            “We always go to the beach. I want to go fishing in the mountains.”

            “What do you mean, we always go to the beach? And anyway, you had a fishing trip already.”

            “Well that was just for a weekend - this is different!”

 

Instead of a pleasant discussion, you end up feeling defensive, put upon, dissed, and you know what’s coming . . . a fight.

 

Why? You’re both grown-ups here. What happened?

 

You felt attacked. Your ‘beach’ idea was shot down. You retaliated, whereupon your partner got defensive, and so on. And on. All very understandable knee-jerk reactions, however, nothing that will lead to what you really want - a solution. More than that, a mutually agreeable solution.

 

When I started classes in improv acting, I was surprised to discover the first rule of improv theatre is “Yes, and.” No matter how outlandish the situation your fellow improv actor presents on stage, your response has to be “Yes, and.” “Yes, puppies do grow on Mars and we should think about starting a Martian kennel. How’s that spaceship coming along?” Refusing a partner’s offer is known as “blocking:” “That’s ridiculous, anyone knows there’s no life on Mars, certainly nothing like puppies.” The scene stops right there, because it has nowhere to go.

 

Your partner says “beach.” You block with “We always go to the beach.” And the conversation promptly goes downhill. Instead, practice “yes, and.” “Yes, we do go to the beach often, and I think a change of pace would be fun. How about maybe trying out some mountains-and-fishing this time?”

 

Your partner may come back with “Well I don’t know - beach is really my preference.” You continue with “Yes, beaches are great; what if we found a lake with a beach area and a fishing area.” Or whatever other creative solution you come up with.

 

In other words, you’re now into problem-solving, being creative together to find something that pleases both of you. You can’t do that when you’re busy protecting your own territory.

 

“Yes, and” - whether you actually use those words, or just the spirit of them, is a great way to both honor yourself, and your partner’s preferences.

 

 







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