I’ve been skiing for a few years now, but last season, I decided to take a snowboarding lesson. The experience was quite different; it was fun while I was standing (or “fully committing,” to use the phrasing of my instructor), but I spent a lot of time on my butt. I felt like that this past weekend when we had a guest instructor from Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre visit us for a series of workshops.
Our instructor started by saying that we had probably been taught how to “Yes, and…” before, but this was not what he would be teaching us. In this new world, I can contradict my scene partner and have it be okay. In this new world, I don’t need to engage with my scene partner. In this new world, I am the center of my improv universe.
The workshops made me realize that there is a broader range of characters I can play beyond what I typically do, and the puzzle for me is how I can integrate what I’ve been taught into what I already do. This is particularly hard when the tools are described as being something other than a “Yes, and…” because it adds yet another thing to keep track of that seems to run counter to how I typically navigate an improv scene. To phrase the problem another way, I can barely ski, and I certainly don’t know how to ski and snowboard at the same time. Does that mean I need to give up my improv skis to try out this cool snowboard?
I had time to reflect, and I now disagree with our instructor’s basic premise that what we learned this weekend was in some way different from “Yes, and…”; rather, there are different types of “Yes, and…” moves that I would broadly classify into at least these categories*:
- Acknowledge the content of what was just said (yes), and add information to move the plot forward: “Yes, your mother’s sick, and we need to get to the hospital.”
- Acknowledge the content of what was just said (yes), and add information to clarify the environment: “Yes, we are waiting; these lines for the roller coaster are long.”
- Acknowledge the content of what was just said (yes), and add information to justify the other character: “Yes, you haven’t wanted to go outside ever since the accident.”
- Acknowledge your scene partner (yes), and react in a way that shapes your character: “Oh yeah? I’m too good to put up with your nonsense!”
What Annoyance appears to teach is how to do the final type under the assumption that if you have a well-defined character for yourself, the scene will become easier to play. What makes the type so different is that the acknowledgment could potentially ignore some or all of the specifics described by your partner.
I can’t say I have a firm grasp of this quite yet nor am I confident whether I’ll agree with anything I’ve written here in a few weeks, but framing things this way let’s me play with more of the techniques from this weekend within the comfort of what I already do. I guess we’ll see how it goes.
* It might be better to think of “Yes, and…” moves as part of a continuum that fall somewhere inside the simplex of these different categories, but I haven’t thought of any great examples that aren’t just concatenations of multiple clauses.**
** This could just be gobbledygook, but it sort of makes sense in my head.