Yes, And – Part III

By Randall | Games for Workshop, Improv Tips
24 Jan 2012

Also see Part I and Part II

To demonstrate the effectiveness of “Yes, And” and how critical it is to good scene work, we use the following exercise on the first day of a new level 1 class.

First, we get two volunteers who are “ready to fail” to get up in front of the class to do a scene where they can only ask questions. Although this is sometimes played as an improv game (Questions Only), it is not only difficult to remember to make every line a question, it is also very challenging to ask questions in such a way that the scene advances.

The next two volunteers are asked to do a scene where every line starts with the word “No.” This scene just degrades to two people disagreeing about everything and denying the reality that the other has established. Even less happens this time than in the question scene.

Thirdly, we have two volunteers start each line with the words “Yes, but.” This is barely any better than saying “No.” “But” is another form of denial, though it may sometimes be a little better disguised, especially to the player uttering it.

Finally, we introduce the idea of “Yes, And” and ask for two volunteers who are “ready to succeed.” They perform a scene together, starting each line with the words “Yes, and…” Although you would not literally say “Yes, And” every time you speak in a show, it is a clear demonstration to the new students of how much more easily the scene progresses, and how quickly something interesting can happen.

When we have a “Yes, and” mentality, we accept our scene partner’s ideas and build on them ourselves. When both players are saying “Yes, and,” they are both responsible for creating the scene; the Yes accepts, the And supports. Asking questions stalls the scene and puts the onus on your partner to supply all the details. Saying either “No” or “Yes, but” blocks your partner’s ideas and actually deconstructs what they have built.

Truth in Comedy explains this with the following analogy (paraphrased): “Building a scene is like building a house. Every time you say ‘Yes, and’ a new brick is laid. ‘Yes, but’ stops any continued growth. ‘No’ removes the block that has just been established.” I would also add that asking questions would be “supervising” while your partner puts down brick after brick.

Lastly, when “yes, anding” a scene, refrain from trying to put down an entire house at once. That is not how houses are built! Treat all ideas with the same respect and importance that you would give your own, and take it one brick at a time.


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