Improv: The Creativity Cultivator

This blog post was originally published on June 20, 2014. We’re bringing back some blog posts in a series called CMA Classics. Think ESPN Classic, but everyone comes out a winner.

“Yes! And….”

This is the golden rule of improvisation. If you have been to Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage, Laughing Matters, or Whole World Theatre or if you’ve watched the popular television show “Whose Line is it Anyway,” you have seen this rule in action. No matter what situation your scene partner throws at you, the correct response is always, “Yes! And…”

An example:

Improviser #1: “Excuse me. But I see you’re having car trouble.”

Improviser #2:  “Yes, I am.  And I’m on my way to an important job interview with a start-up tech company.  I don’t think I’ll ever make it on time now.”

Improviser #1: “Yup. It looks like you’re in a jam. But I know a thing or two about cars. Mind if I take a look at it?”

And the scene continues.

Consider the alternative.

Improviser #1: “Excuse me. But I see you’re having car trouble.”

Improviser #2: “No I’m not. And this isn’t a car. It’s a rocket ship.”

And the scene comes to a screeching halt.

The point of the “Yes! And….” rule is to embrace and validate the situation your partner has bestowed upon you and move the scene forward. To deny or block an offer is to ignore, disregard, shut down or negate offers that have been given to the scene. Blocking is the negation of an established reality and makes for very boring improvisation.

I first heard about “Yes! And…” theory through my husband Ryan who has been practicing the art of improvisation since high school. Over the years, I have discovered that the “Yes! And….” rule seems to be embedded in his DNA. It’s as though it’s part of his natural fabric and defines, not only the way he approaches improv, but the way he approaches life.

This inherit ability to “go with the flow,” “build on a suggestion,” “embrace your scene partner’s world” is what makes him, in my non-scientifically-proven opinion, the best daddy in the whole entire world.

Take, for example, our 7-year-old daughter:

“I need a bunch of boxes!”

Me: “Not now. I’m folding laundry and I just cleaned the house for grandma and grandpa’s visit.”

See what I did there? I killed the scene, didn’t I?

Take 2:

“I need a bunch of boxes!”

Ryan: “Yes! And here’s some gaff tape, sharpie markers, construction paper, scissors, a chain saw and a soldering iron.”

Okay, maybe he didn’t give her the chain saw and soldering iron, but he did provide her with the tools and space she needed to create a life-sized unicorn that so closely rivaled the Greeks’ Trojan horse I half expected the entire first grade class to pour out of it as soon as I put dessert on the table.

When I first went home and told my children about the Museum’s upcoming Outside the Box exhibit, they could not contain their excitement. Not only will there be boxes, lots and lots of boxes, but this home-grown exhibit will host the Museum’s first Makerspace, an area that will provide various tools and supplies that inspire creative discovery and innovation. This latter revelation made Ryan’s eyes light up big and wide.

In addition to being an improviser, Ryan is, by day, an electrical engineer. He will tell you that he makes things light up and spin but I have a hunch there’s more to it than that. His entire career has been built on the rule of “Yes! And….”. Engineers, software developers, scientists, artists, welders, tech-savvy tinkerers….all of these professions and hobbies embrace the golden rule of improvisation. “Can we make this work?” “Yes! And we can make it even better!”

The Makerspace in Outside the Box is designed to encourage children and parents to dream, design, and build. There are no wrong answers. Blocking is not allowed. It is a space where innovation is encouraged and embraced, and where children as young as 2-years-old are able to be artists, engineers, designers, scientist, and general tinkerers who may very well stumble upon an idea that will be spark something extraordinary, or not. And that’s okay, too.

In this space, the only rule is to embrace the golden rule of innovation. “YES! AND….”. Now, go create unicorns!

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