Yes and… The Most Important Improv Skill

Yes and… is one of the most valuable skills for creating improv scenes from scratch. You can improvise well on stage and in life through the use of the Yes, and… principle. In my Improv classes in Seattle, we work on this idea extensively. 

This is the classic improv powerhouse that is known throughout the world. Many improv games are based on it. What it means is this:

Any idea or reality your partner brings to the table, you accept it. If they think you're a martian, you accept it. If they believe the sky is falling, you accept it. If they think you're eyes are beautiful, you accept it. (And, you DO have beautiful eyes! Has anyone told you lately?)

You also add on to their ideas. If they think you're a martian, you accept and add on that they are an earthling you've just kidnapped. If they believe the sky is falling, you add on that it's because God can't keep it up because he's tired. If they think you're eyes are beautiful, you add on that you use them as a tool to control weak minds. (Which of course you do, you sexy improviser!)

​This is the process that's necessary to building a reality together.

It's like making a salad: if every time they try  to add something, you pull it out right after, it won't work. They throw in some lettuce, you take it out and put in kale. They add tomatoes, you remove them and put in carrots. They remove the carrots and put in cucumbers.

You'll never eat!

Instead, if you each add complementary ingredients to the salad, in no time at all you'll have a healthy meal!

This idea is commonly referred to as the "Yes, and..." rule. This can be a misnomer, as you can say "Yes, and..." while not really living by the heart of the rule.

That is: this does not mean that your character will always agree and add. If you're in a scene with your lover and they ask to have another person join you in bed, your character may say no. That can be fine. If your in a scene with someone who claims to be your lover and you say they're not your lover, that's likely blocking their idea.

​As far as an approach to getting along with people in everyday life, "Yes, and..." can be fantastically useful! Especially in business improv training.

"I've got this idea for marketing with publicity stunts!"

"Yes, that's great! And, how are you thinking?"

"We'll train dogs to howl our brand name so millions of Americans hear it at noon everyday."

"Yes, and we could train certain dogs to grab our items off store shelves and put them in shoppers baskets without people noticing!"​

Yes, that's a silly example. And, if you greet new ideas with agreement and add to them, you'll quickly find yourself and the people around you feeling more creative and inspired. And, at an acceptable time, you can go over the practicalities.

You need to brainstorm first and judge later.

It's like with writing. If you just let the ideas flow, you can edit them later. If you try to edit as you write, it tends to shut down your inner muse.

Treat your muse will, and you can create beautiful music...​

It's easy to think we're accepting ideas when we're actually block them. If you'd like an outside eye, you can sign up for Improv Coaching.

If you'd like more ideas like this, check out my Ultimate Guide to Improv: 101 Tips to Improv Success!

Share this!