How to apply the principles of improv to life’s difficulties
What is “Yes, And…”
Anybody who knows anything about the art form of improvisational theater has likely heard of the term “Yes, And”. It’s a two-part process. “Yes” means whatever is happening in the current moment—whatever idea has been presented, game rule has been laid down, or storyline started—is heard and viewed as valid (or on the table, or ready to be explored, or has the floor or however else you want to describe it). “And” means that now that we’ve accepted the current situation as valid, we pledge to build upon it—whatever platform has been set up—we’re agreeing to collaboratively engage.
Whether or not an improviser or improv group consciously follows the concept of Yes, And when performing, they are doing it anyway. They need to agree that whoever started the scene or game has laid down the first building block of what’s to come. Then they need to commit to collaboratively building upon that first block. Without Yes, And, collaborative improv cannot function. It becomes something else. It is a creative expression of disconnected individuals instead of an artistic group mind.
One of the main tenets of my career as creative director of an improv troupe is to spread the good word of Yes, And. I model it on stage. I teach it in classes and corporate workshops. I speak about it in keynote speeches and in my daily life. So, I’m proud to say that many people are reaping the benefits of Yes, And, either consciously or unconsciously after working with us in person or seeing Monkey Business Institute perform.
They see that Yes, And can be entertaining and humorous, that it can be useful in their own improv performance or other collaborative endeavors, or that it can improv(e!) the energy and dynamics of their groups and their relationships.
But there’s a much deeper way Yes, And can be applied: We can use it as a core concept to guide our lives.
COVID-19 is an unavoidable reality right now.
It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet. It is either already profoundly affecting your work and personal life or it will be soon. And everywhere there is fear. Of our health. Of our financial situations. Of the effect on our relationships. As any change does to humans, it’s putting a strain on our mental health.
I propose we all embrace “Yes, And” to help us through this traumatic and unprecedented time. Yes, And is not just an artsy-fartsy, fairy tale concept. When truly and deeply embodied, it can change lives. I’ve seen it happen. I believe it’ll help guide us and get us through to the other side in better shape than we went in.
How can we Yes, And COVID-19?
Applying the concept at this deeply fundamental level means saying Yes, And to the situation life has presented to you. In other words, you are accepting that however the pandemic has changed your life, you will accept that as the point you’re starting at and upon which you’ll build together. Are you working from home or out of a job completely? Start your reality there. Are you or a loved one sick with the virus? Start there. Are you depressed and lonely because you can barely leave your home and can’t visit your friends? That’s your base reality.
Accepting these changes happening in your life as real and true can be a very powerful thing. Because you have no control over any of these things, accepting they are happening is a powerful stress reliever. The other approaches of avoidance, denial, or fighting against it are going to cause a lot of anxiety and hold you back from improving your lot.
Once you accept the situation you’re in, you’re ready to AND it. Now you can say, “This is my reality” or “These are my current limitations”, and then start to build off of that. What can you do with these scenarios to build a new positive, productive life for the next weeks and months?
Here are some situations I’ve found myself currently in and how I’m Yes, Anding them.
- YES, all the normal functions of my business (which heavily relies on direct proximity to other people) are shut down. AND, there are unprecedented amounts of time to use personally and to ask my troupe to give me. Let’s use technology to stay connected and to try out all those ideas that have remained on the backburner for years. So far, we’ve tried our first livestreamed show and are working on ways to entertain, teach, and train over the internet.
- YES, I am stuck at home except for short walks or to do essential tasks. AND, I am finally getting to those perma-procrastinated home projects (I’M ORGANIZING THE BASEMENT AFTER 11 YEARS!). I am playing lots of games and catching up on shows I’ve wanted to watch. I finally have more time with my wife and are becoming closer with her than ever.
- YES, I can’t go socialize with friends and family and am worried about their health. AND, I am making way more phone calls, sending way more texts, and videoconferencing with them to stay connected and send my love. I think it’s even helping me get over my phone anxiety. I am also upping my online group gaming by learning and using new platforms for that.
All in all, using Yes, And through this time has helped me see what positives exist in this troubled time. And it’s helping me remember what’s important: building strong relationships with those I love and being easier on myself than I almost always had been.