“What improvisation does, in its most simple form, is to take the focus off ourselves and allow us to dial down our personal judgement.” – Leonard & Yorton, Yes, And
When I was in high school, the “Drama Kids” scared me. They were so … you know, dramatic. Emotive, performative, over-sharing. It seemed they had no impulse control. I’m an expert in impulse control; it’s probably one of the things that led to my burnout.
On one hand, I experience breakthroughs and personal growth when I push myself beyond what’s comfortable. On the other hand, over-thinking often prevents me from making change even when I know what change I want. I have a way of talking myself out of a lot of really good ideas.
Talk, talk, talk – the yammering in my mind often drowns out my brilliant – but very quiet – inner voice.
I initially signed up for Improv 101 hoping to improve my performance in improvisational dance situations, but it taught me a bigger lesson. Presented with unfamiliar, unexpected, even absurd scenarios, my brain shut down. I would become literally speechless, useless to everyone in the scene and to myself. Improv exposed my inner life to me like I was watching my actual mind play itself on screen. Experiencing my brain fail like that was so fascinating that I signed myself up for a week-long improv intensive at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade training centre in New York City.
What was I thinking?! Eight hours a day doing something I was terrible at.
I was the only person in the class who was not either pursuing a career in the entertainment industry or already a member of an improv troupe. I felt like the kid who always gets picked last for the team. I felt sorry for anyone who had to do a scene with me. After the second day I had a meltdown and was going to quit. But I stuck it out and, to my and everyone else’s surprise, did much better. I even participated in the final live performance at the end of the week and didn’t suck. I mean, no one’s going to pay to watch me do improv, but I was decent.
The foundation of improv is “Yes, and”. Whatever happens on stage, however bizarre the scenario is, whatever another player says or does, you agree with it and build on it. It’s the ultimate in “flow”. Trying improv showed me the depth and intensity of judgement that’s in my mind and surrounding me every day, in other people and in society at large. Even after I got past immediately reacting to new ideas by saying “No”, my sneaky brain came up with other, more subtle ways of resisting: “Yes, but.” “What about X instead?” “I think.” “You should.”
Improv made me aware of the subtle ways that we sabotage our own progress and get in the way of our own desires.
I can’t say I’ve become a new person. But, as I wrote in a previous blog, I practice a few specific skills to master my judgement-brain, and I do make constant progress. I’m past “No”. I’m even past “Yes, but.” I’d say I’m somewhere around “Yes, and, but” right now.
What do you say?
“Yes, and” everything for a full day. “Yes, and” yourself as well as the ideas of others. Actually say those two words out loud, and then complete the sentence.
What do you learn? What changes for you the more “Yes, anding” you do?
If you enjoy it, try it for a few more days or a week.
- Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses ‘No, But’ Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration – Lessons from The Second City – by Kelly Leonard & Tom Yorton
- The Acting Company (Ottawa)
- Upright Citizens Brigade (NYC)