How to “Yes, And” by saying “No”

When I first started Improvising, I took the phrase “Yes, and” very literally. My mind was blown by this new concept and I wanted to play with the idea of saying YES to everything I could.

And so… I went skiing. I really dislike skiing. Those darn chair lifts! As the chair lift wobbled and swayed in the cold and my kind friends distracted me from my fear by talking baseball and “Friends” trivia, the phrase “Say, Yes And” pierced through my head.

I thought, I really should say YES…when in my gut I knew I wanted to have said no.

This “Yes, And” experiment lasted a few more months. Until I realized a key distinction:

It’s more important to “Yes, And” your instincts than to say yes to everything.

Well-timed NO’s are strategic. They allow us to create space for more YES’s. 

Improv helps us develop our instinctual muscle, so that we are attuned to what feels true for us and what doesn’t.

This attunement also helps us feel what’s true or not true for the characters we play on stage. We know what makes them tick.

Most of us work-out our NO muscle more often than our YES muscle. Usually there is a reason for it. Ask, where is the NO coming from? As long as the “NO” comes from a real, honest place we are still supporting our partner, ourselves, and the scene.

The key is to not feel like we have to say YES to everything our partner says or does on-stage, but to still find a way to accept it and build on it.

A tricky nuance perhaps. I’d argue that the key is balance — How does your “NO” keep moving the story forward? What about this offer can you still accept?

The more we Improvise (on stage and in real life) the more we may realize that “Yes, And’ing” is less about rules and more about intention and instinct.

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