The Commandments in two words – Yes…And…

The final video of the Meet Your Playful Self Workshop series with the students of Independence High School demonstrates the almighty commandment, the precept, the basic rule of improvisation – Yes…And….

The narrative about Yes…And…is lifted from the book; Meet Your Playful Self

The noun of self becomes a verb. This flashpoint of creation in the present moment is where work and play merge.
– Steven Nachmanovitch

(The quote is from his book Free Play which you can learn more about @@@@ here)


The concept of yes…and… is the spring board for improvisers because the technique creates a spontaneous and engaging dialogue which, in turn, engages and amuses the audience. People working in improvisation have confronted yes…and… so many times in their work that it begins to take on the Biblical proportions of all Ten Commandments and the burning bush all rolled into one.

It is often the first concept encountered by improvisers and one that appears so simple and easy to accomplish as a concept or direction, but turns out to be wickedly allusive and difficult in practice.

The direction IS simple. Here is what is asked in a workshop setting:

Direction Yes…and…

Two people sit opposite each other. The first person makes an observation statement – real or imagined – about their partner:

Player a) You appear worried.

The other person responds with Yes…and… tells why the observation is true.

Player b) Yes…I just got the bill for my surgery.

Now, what could be simpler than that …you may ask?

Well…try it and you will see.

The Function of – Yes….and…

As we look at practicing the yes…and…statement as a means to become a more playful person, it is a good time to look at why it is so necessary and basic in coloring our perceptions and vital to a conversation.

It is a first and primary step simply because it holds the dialogue and action of a conversation in a spontaneous and intuitive place. In other words, Yes…and… helps keep the action in the now. Playing in the spontaneous now is what improvisation is all about. Even though the observer has no idea that the yes…and…statement is being used, the spontaneous now is electric, fascinating, and often funny.

When an improvised performance moves out of the spontaneous now, the interest of the observer spirals downward and falls as flat as stomped gum. The …yes…and… statement is the perfect place to find the transition point between predictable and spontaneous. If the conceptual path and the intuitive path were playing on a teeter toter, yes…and… is the fulcrum on which the balance rests.

Obviously, in improvisation there is no script, no costumes, or props which is why many actors who will audition for roles for a scripted play would be hard pressed to try improvisation …no way! This reaction is as common as it is understandable. In an improvisation, the script, costumes, and props are stripped away leaving….what?

Leaving …What?

Here are answers to leaving what? from two great teachers of acting and improvisation. Sanford Meisner was a renowned acting teacher at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. (See post –Repetiton) In his book On Acting, Meisner used improvisation as the basic starting point in his actor training classes in a form called repetition. Here is a quote where he is specifically referring to the reason for using improvisation in training actors:

Look, I’ll tell you why the repetition exercise, in essence, is not boring: it plays on the source of all organic creativity, which is the inner impulses. I wish I could make that clear!

I spoke of the work of Viola Spolin in the Roots section of this book. Here is her answer to what is left from her book Improvisation for the Theatre:

The intuitive can only respond in immediacy – right now. It comes bearing gifts in the moment of spontaneity, the moment when we are freed to relate and act, involving ourselves in the moving, changing world around us. (Read her book on line @@@@ Here

Meisner’s Inner impulse and Spolin’s responding in immediacy define what is left when script, costumes, props and set are taken away. No great wonder why some actors find it scary. When all else is stripped away, and you are doing yes…and… what is left but, your inner impulse – your response in immediacy – YOU.

YOU Are What is Left

Yes..and… is a first step exercise for you to discover your inner impulse and response in immediacy, and it becomes a strong emotional experience that many improvisers will remember – like where they were on 9/11 or when Kennedy was shot.

Yes…and… begins a shift in perception from self conscious into playful; a first glimpse into a new way of seeing things. So, for many improvisers, yes…and… lives as a turning point in who they are. For many, the words yes…and…can become a shared emotional icon for a common experience.

Now you are anointed; you know the commandment yes…and…

Meet Your Playful Self


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