The "Yes, And" Rule

In improv we say "everything is an offer". What that means simply is that anything - a word, a gesture, a memory, a facial expression - is something that can be used and built with. Improvisers talk about "yes, and-ing" offers. The "yes" means, see, hear, accept what is going on. Even if it is unexpected or unattractive. The "and" means add something. Offer something back. Build.

In an improv scene, for example, someone walks on stage and says, "Arr, there's a storm brewing, I'd bet my peg leg on it! Get below deck!"

The yes, anding improviser first asks herself, "What are the offers?" Well, in this case, a storm, a peg leg, a deck to get under, a tone of voice, a status relationship.... All of those are information to be received and inspired by. Whatever she does, she must say "yes" to them.

Then comes the "and" part. What will she offer back? She has a lot of choices. She can say, "Ay, Cap'tn. Let' me carry you down below." Or "Yes! I've called upon Poseidon, my father, to scuttle your ship and rescue me." Or "Ahhh! We're dead, cap'n. All of us dead, dead! Hold me!" Anything that accepts what has been "offered" is fair game.

But if she says, "Who are you and what are you doing in my living room?" she has broken the cardinal "yes, and" rule by "blocking" or saying "no" to those offers. Although she might get a laugh, the scene will die. She has destroyed, rather than built.

So, how does the "yes, and" rule help us as storytellers? A number of ways. Here are some tips/exercises to start to think about. We'll discuss each in more detail in coming posts.

1. Recognize and capture the stories around you. If you pay attention, you will see them everywhere: the check out line, the subway, the dinner table.

2. Practice accepting the same offers in various ways - ask yourself: given the data, what story do I wish to tell?

3. Realize that creativity comes as much from awareness of what is outside of us as it does from "inner" brilliance. Read great stories, see great theatre, feed yourself yummy offers from any source you can think of.

4. Think of your audience as your partner. What offers are you receiving? How does that affect how and what you say?

Let us know what you discover!