Continued from Part two…
Let’s discuss what happens in these improv courses. One of the first rules you will encounter is that you are not allowed to say “no”. Instead they encourage you to say “Yes and…” They do not mean this metaphorically. You are expected to go up on stage and no matter what someone says to you you are supposed to say “Yes and…” in some sort of forced agreement. I understand the basic reason for this which is it is hard for a scene to go forward if you can’t agree on the “who what and wheres” of a scene.
I believe “Yes and…” is not meant to be taken literally. You can find agreement without actually saying “Yes”. If I establish the other player in a scene is my brother then we both instantly know who we are and what our relationship is. But if they negate it and say “I’m not your brother, I’m your father,” it gets confusing and doesn’t go anywhere. However, improv schools do not teach it this way. They literally get upset if you say “no” in any situation, even if it makes sense for the character to say that. There is a similar rule that you are not allowed to EVER ask a question on stage. This also does not make any sense to me since it is a perfectly human thing to do to ask a question. So they are actually creating a stage reality that does not reflect human reality at all where people always say “yes” and never say “no” and never ask questions. Who else, but an improviser, goes through life like that?
If the “Yes and…” rule was only applied to stage I might not even mind. However, improv schools usually take this rule too far and begin applying it off the stage too. They actually believe that the world works better if everyone is just in some kind of blind forced agreement. I have been at corporate shows where this concept is taught to actual businesses. We have taught them that if an employee has a suggestion that everyone should say “yes and…” to build on it. One time I remember the CEO came up to the stage after the show and said to us quietly, “Sometimes you have to say no.”
I think the reason why improv organizations prefer these rules is because they quash any dissent within the ranks. Whoever the person is who has established themselves as the leader, or employer, can surely expect that no one trained this way will ever ask a question or say no to them. Because that is off limits and against the rules. Is it starting to sound like a cult yet?
Coming next week! Part 3: SUPPRESSIVE PERSONS OSTRASCIZED