RULE # 1 “YES! And…”
Rule # 2: When in doubt, refer to rule #1
Want to be a great improviser?
Always think “YES!, and….”
When performing an improvisation, you and a partner are teaming up to build a scene. Players listen and respond to build details and action.
STEP 1: You speak
STEP 2: Your partner speaks. REPEAT
The best scenes come from partners accepting what is said, adding to the details and forwarding the action of the scene. “YES! And…” is the most important rule of Improv because great scene work cannot be created without a strong team of mutual support.
Player One: I really like that brown-haired dog best.
Player Two: Yes, and that dog is a great choice
Player One: Yes, and I really like his friendly personality.
Player Two: Yes, and his short hair will be easy to groom.
Player One: Yes, and I will go ahead and buy him.
Player Two: Yes, and I will get all of the paper work ready for you.
Every statement above adds details or action. In six lines of dialogue we already learned a lot about the characters, where they are and what is happening.
EXERCISE 1) “YES! AND…” WARM UP
In a circle, Player ONE makes a statement. (Ex “I just bought new shoes”) Player TWO listens and responds starting with the words “YES! And…” (ex “YES! AND they match your outfit wonderfully”). Player TWO begins new mini scene with Player THREE. Continue…
EXERCISE 2) “YES! AND…” Story
Play the ONE SENTENCE STORY game found in Warm-up section. Start each new statement with the words “YES! And…”First player makes a statement starting a story. Player two starts with “YES! And…” adding more details to the story.
EXERCISE 3) “YES! AND…” Scene
Two players perform a scene. Each new statement starts with the words “YES! And…”.
In all three exercises above, we force you to use the words “YES! AND…”. Continue to do so until this concept is second nature. THEN as you perform other exercises and scenes, ALWAYS THINK ”YES! And…”
”YES! And…” needs to permeate all aspects of our work. Characters do not always have to agree. Conflict is great for great story telling. But when we don’t listen, showboat or otherwise act selfishly in a scene, we end up negating our scene partners.
I have scene adults and kids start a scene, “Hey look at that dog over there!” only to have their scene partner say “YES! And that’s actually a cat!”
Now perhaps we are setting up a scene about a blind person. But in most cases, player two was going for a cheap laugh. But as we all soon see leads to “Um, I’ve got nothing!”
Where as, had Player Two simply said, “YES! And it looks like it’s lost. Perhaps we should help find the owner…” We would have a had a great scene. There are hundreds if not thousands of possibilities that could have supported player one. Many of them would have been funny. More of them would have led to a bigger pay off and a great story.
The obvious “YES! And…” is in dialogue, but perhaps more important is the use of pantomime. We create worlds doing scenes. We do not have sets, costumes or props. We use pantomime (more about that later) to create furniture, counter tops, appliances, doors, trees, sidewalks and so much more. How often does a new player walk right through an object another player just created?
We will have more in depth discussion about WHO WHERE WHAT LATER but start thinking about…
“YES! And…” to the characters and relationships…
Once a player establishes a character or relationship, that is the WHO for the scene. All other players must jump on board and begin to strengthen that WHO. AS you will see later relationships are more important than actual characters tot he improv, but your performance of your character is vital to the scene. If a player assigns you an attribute – costume choice, physical deformity, character trait, job, hobby, like/dislike – you immediately take on that task. Very important to
“YES! And…” to the physical world…
THE WHERE of the scene should be established early. In great scene work, players work together to create a world out of the blank 3D canvas of our performance space / staging area (or an actual stage if you are lucky lol). When two players agree on an the imaginary design of the room the characters occupy, the audience begins to see it too. Every time you deal with that space and react to it you strengthen that WHERE. But the second a player negates the imaginary reality, all that work is lost. I have imagined beautiful landscapes of mountains, waterfalls, beaches and more watching great Improv. And as much as I love the work of my scene artist friends out there, my imagination is so much better.
“YES! And…” to our actions…
Players have to agree on our actions. THE WHAT of the scene
THE AUDIENCE IMAGINATION…
Basically, everything we do is to stimulate the audiences imagination the way a great book does. And the great things is, we do not have to do much. Sometimes a single word will get their brains working overtime. And the cool thing about Improv, the audience’s imagination makes the experience unique for every individual imagination. If you do a scene in a kitchen they will most likely see their kitchen. Say “MOM” and immediately their own mom comes into mind. “COLLEGE” they are immediately transported to their alma mater.
LESS IS MORE… We say this all the time in Jazz Improvisation. Get out of the way of the audience’s imagination. “YES! And…” your scene partner to death and you will continue to build upon those WHOs, WHEREs and WHATs. Inspire instead of dictate. TRUST your scene partners and your audience and you will be transported to another plane! Ok, getting exostential now… time to move on LOL
Don’t try to be funny…
So at some point you may be hired to do Improv in an Improv “COMEDY” troupe like EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH. In that case you may be expected to make folks laugh with great Improv. But here is the thing, If you get hired you are probably a naturally funny person with a lot of talent. Great players do not try to be funny. Great players are naturally funny and trust their instincts especially with years of training and practice our ability to listen, focus and respond IN THE MOMENT like a real person.
But as a novice, if you try to hard to be funny, you probably will end up breaking every rule – especially “YES! And…” When we try to hard to “think” of something funny, we most often are not listening. We are certainly not listening and responding. When some new players play simple story-telling games, they think ahead trying to be prepared with a funny line. Then the line makes no sense in the story. It may get a few chuckles from those that like class clowns, but not great laughs you will win from audiences in the theater.
Often this comes from ego and insecurity. It can be very hard to let go and let down protective walls. At first you may feel awkward. But you will quickly build up real technique and skills. Trust the process and trust your scene partners.
Share the Stage…
Something I have seen way too often is a player hogging the stage, and often not because of ego. More often this comes from insecurity. One of the following things happens…
– A new player is insecure and monopolizes the stage because they fear they have to make a scene great. All sense of listening and responding go out the window.
– An experienced player does not trust their partner so they suffocate the scene. New player may give great offers, but they are totally ignored and steam rolled. Improv Snobbery often plays into the game. I never understand this. Improv should be the least pretentious of all the arts. Too many hipsters invading our ranks? I say all should have fun and play, regardless of experience. I have had the most amazing scenes with complete beginners at their first class. They bring a freshness. Working with experienced players I too often get the same old bag of tricks OR so experimental reality takes a beating.
– The boys club – not sure why but way too often male players totally disrespect female players. Guys, relax and play fair. It is 2014 (r what ever year you are reading this). Too often Improv scenes look like an episode of MAD MEN, with women fighting to live in the guys world. Share the stage with ALL your scene partners, regardless of experience, sex, race etc. If artists cannot be equal opportunists, who can?
In the all the arts, I say EGO and INSECURITY equally inhibit an artist. I personally think it takes about an ounce of arrogance to get on stage in front of a crowd. But I have a pound of humility and graciousness to be able to make a living having so much fun. Don’t let ego and insecurity run your life. Classes and training can help fix both. An ego maniac will often be cut down by the right casting director. Or they often get work, because they are good, but never rehired because they are intolerable at work. BE COOL!
Too often, new improvisers waste precious time asking questions. Not all questions are evil. Most often a question is an act of laziness and forces your scene partner to do all the work. Remember our scene in the pet shop from “YES! And…”.
Player One: What is that?
Player Two: That’s a dog.
Player One: What color is it?
Player Two: It’s brown.
Player One: Can I buy it?
Player Two: Sure.
We learn something about the scene, but this is not that interesting and far less information than the original. As we learned in the previous page “YES! AND…”
AS experienced Improvisers, we ask questions of our characters that add details to a scene and create conflict. But I challenge all novice players to NEVER ASK QUESTIONS to break yourself of bad habits and force yourself into creating detail-filled statements. In rehearsals for the professionals I say NO BLCOKS / NO QUESTIONS as we work on technique and new games.
EXERCISE: THE QUESTION GAME
Perform a scene where every player can only speak using questions. (VARIATION – When a player messes up, replace player with teammate)
BLOCKING / SAYING “NO!”
The worst thing you can do in Improvisation is to say “NO!” or say or do something that implies “NO!” Sometimes you will get a laugh, but you always kill the forward motion of the scene. Saying “NO!” ends the forward motion of the scene. Improvisers call this “Selling out your teammate.”
Now let us see a player block the other player in the same scene.
Player One: I really like that brown-haired dog best.
Player Two: Hey Silly, that is a cat, not a dog.
Player One: I really like that brown-haired dog best.
Player Two: NO!
Either way, the scene has nowhere to go. Instead of agreeing with PLAYER ONE, PLAYER TWO negated everything. We learn nothing about the characters, location or situation. Player two is making a great scene impossible. Don’t be a scene bully! Sometimes you get a quick laugh, but most scenes will end poorly. Many young and new Improv players block constantly. Thisnever leads to great scene work.
EXERCISES: “NO! But…”
Play the same games from the “YES! And…” page but now start every statement with “NO! But…” (2-line scene, one-sentence story, mini scene)