Why You’ll Struggle with Yes, And!
“Yes, And”. Two simple words that hold so much meaning in improv.
Yes, And is proclaimed across improv theaters and classrooms throughout the world each with their own theory, philosophy, or approach on why you should (or should not) embrace this ideology. As an improviser, you’ll spend countless hours honing, learning, implementing, and debating these tenets on stage and in life.
No matter your approach there’s one universal truth, you will struggle with “Yes, And”. Some of you will struggle when you first learn while others always struggle throughout their improv lifespan.
The question is why the eternal struggle? Improv is really about the human condition and that does not contain a simple answer. Over a decade on stage and in the classroom I have some working theories on why this can be quite a complicated journey.
To say “Yes, And” is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is quite difficult as adults. We have spent a lifetime being conditioned to behave in a way society dictates. We have spent years cultivating identity and persona. We have built up walls. Vulnerability threatens all of this and when we feel threatened our body goes into protective alert. Suddenly, our brain is telling us all the ways we can protect ourselves including the knee jerk reaction of saying “no” or “but” and even “because”.
Humans are messy and psychology is complicated. If we’ve become accustomed to feeling as if we are not seen or heard it becomes difficult to share with others on stage to ensure they are being seen and heard. Our ego might be inflated which again is protection in disguise. Our identity is challenged. If my idea isn’t right then who am I? To allow ourselves to really open up to the possibilities that an idea created together or by another can lead us to worlds we have yet to devise is scary. Once again, your brain will quickly give you several reasons why you should be afraid. All of them make logical sense. All of this makes embracing “Yes, And” a struggle.
If it’s not the psychology of “Yes, And” then perhaps it is the environment that the person is being asked to practice this value. If a teacher isn’t stopping a student when they’ve clearly said “no” why would you feel it’s safe to be vulnerable? To explore or push into a new comfort zone? Teachers who do not give tangible notes are delaying a student’s progress. Their inability to deal with uncomfortable situations impacts everyone.
It could be the teacher didn’t set up a container of safety at the beginning of a class or perhaps they did but a student knows when it’s disingenuous or worse the teacher is unable to keep their promise of safety.
A good teacher is essential to the outcome of a future improviser. Good teachers understand what triggers humans and the chemical responses when they are indeed triggered. At some point, every student of improv is going to have a button pushed and a boundary they fear crossing. To expand a zone of comfort this has to happen. The teacher understands how to do this, when to do this, and what happens if it happened too soon or too quickly. Those students who didn’t get the benefit of a teacher able to handle this is going to continue to struggle with “Yes, And” until they come across a teacher, coach, or director who finally understands and can act as their guide.
The art of teaching improv isn’t easy. Teachers are guides, not gurus. Teachers who talk on and on are not to be revered. Typically this is a sign the teacher is discovering their philosophy while they are teaching. While all teachers need this space it can be detrimental to a student’s growth. You want a teacher who can articulate the why and how of “Yes, And” quickly and concisely.
Perhaps it wasn’t your teacher and you feel like you have a grasp on the psychology of you. Then why are you struggling? You aren’t purposely avoiding “Yes, And”. You really will want to do it. Like really REALLY want to use it. It just means you are still learning and with learning comes struggle.
In this case, you won’t just struggle, you will fail. GOOD! Keep failing. Fail, over and over. Why? Because failure is a great teacher. It teaches you to be mindful, resilient, truly become an active listener, develop empathy, allow you to understand the intention and how to implement it via follow-through, and learn to problem-solve while under pressure. All of these skills are great for the stage and paramount to your real life.
Eventually “Yes, And” will click. It takes time but with the right guide, environment, people, and community you will blossom and become the compassionate and meaningful human you were meant to be all along!