life is improv
“Yes, and…” is the basic tenet of improv.
Improv is an unrehearsed, unscripted, spontaneous, improvised comedy performance. Two or more players stand in front of an audience acting out scenarios based on suggestions from the audience or fellow players. The aim is to joyously entertain the audience and fellow players.
And to, you know, survive.
No matter what your scene partners throw out at you, you acknowledge it, accept it, and go with it. It’s not merely yes, but yes and a step further.
So if a fellow player hobbles and says “I lost my leg,” when she clearly has two attached to her torso, accept her offer. You can respond with “Have you checked in your sock drawer?” If a scene partner looks at you and shouts “I’m having a hard time hearing you over this wrecking ball!” you can come back with “Is that why the elevator is taking so long?,” or “I’m not turning this thing off until the lawyers show up.” Each of these accepts the situation, and adds to the story.
The greatest improv sin is blocking. This means rejecting ideas offered by another player. If they say “Here’s an umbrella,” and you respond with “It’s not raining,” or “no thank you” you’ve brought things to a screeching halt and now have to find your way into a new story. It’s likely to create some ill will with your teammates and is generally an amateur move.
This is why the “yes, and…” is of utmost importance. I accept your umbrella and offer back that I’d never needed one inside of my house before. Now the story moves forward.
There is so much about “yes, and” we can apply to our lives. It doesn’t mean we’ll be showered with rain indoors, it means going with the flow of life. “Yes, and” is about acknowledging what we have or has come our way, and going forward the best we can with it. It means figuring out a way to incorporate the crappy bits and keep things moving along.
In that spirit, I’ve compiled an incomplete list of guidelines from improv that also apply to real life.
Go with the flow. You won’t even know the direction it’s sending you. Seriously, don’t fight it, why bother—that’s why it’s called FLOW. Enjoy the ride. The improv term “explore and heighten” refers to following an idea not only to see where it takes you, but allows you to explore consequences while slightly raising the stakes. Kind of, ya know, like life.
Be present. In your body. In your mind. In the situation. With those around you. It won’t serve you to try to get a few steps ahead of what’s happening in front of you--you’ll miss an awful lot. Just be here. Now.
Listen with all of your listening organs. This means not just your ears but also with that favorite 3-pound meat lump, the brain. It also means shutting the big fat noisy dialogue machine on your face. You can’t simultaneously listen and speak at the same time. In improv, you’ll miss important info coming from your fellow players if you are too busy trying to shove words out of your mouth. Same goes for real life.
Let go of expectations. you can’t control all of the things. In fact, you can hardly control anything ever--especially other people’s reactions. The most you can hope to control is your own reaction and your own bladder. Both can be messy if you lose your grip.
Connect with your peeps. Improv, like life, is not a solo show. The greater your connection with those around you, the greater your chance for success.
It’s not about you. No person is an island, and no troupe is a solo act. The more polish you throw at your fellow players, the more you can shine. If you constantly try to upstage or steamroll those around you, you’ll end up looking like an asshat and dragging everyone down with you. Instead, try setting others up for success. In real life, this phenomenon is known as Together we Rise.
There are plenty of answers, but rarely any “right” answers. There are, however, better ones and worse ones. There are terribly awful ones, but there are also some damn good ones. Choose wisely. But choose quickly.
Keep making decisions. You’ll be bombarded with them. Some you can maybe ignore. Some will seem insignificant but will turn out to be important. Some will be stupid, but must be attended to. Avoid waffling at all costs.
Keep moving forward. The improv term is advancing. Stagnation or plateauing is the enemy of progress. In improv, that’s standing on stage in a rut or loop with a story that goes nowhere. It’s pretty much the same in real life, except the rut or loop is bigger—so big, it probably takes a while to recognize.
Allow yourself to be transformed. Go with the flow so hard that you baptize yourself in it.
Try new things. You, your audience, and your teammates will get real bored real fast with the same old shenanigans.
Be brave. Be willing to make huge mistakes. I know, I know: easier said than done. But, big risks=big rewards, etc etc. Confidence doesn’t come from thinking you can do big things. Confidence is a direct result of taking risks and not only crushing it, but also learning how to get back on track when you flop hard.
Whatever your course of action, commit to it. No matter how dull, idiotic, difficult, or unfathomable, keep going. Not forever. Just to see the view from a bit further down that path.
“Yes, and” your mistakes. Okay, so you botched things up. You might be the only one who knows. Treat it like any other prompt, and follow where it leads you.
When in doubt: burst into song.