I’m sure most of you have heard of this game or phrase at some point in your entertainment career. It is perhaps the most basic tool and philosophy we learn and yet it proves to be the most powerful. Our entire act, and even our own personal lives, uses this phrase in many forms. In this blog, I will explore just the tip of the iceberg on why this phrase and philosophy is more powerful and useful than one may think.
Saying “YES” as a Performer
For those of you who have done improv comedy or stage acting like I have, I’m sure you’ve been in that “one” scene. You know what scene I’m talking about. You have just thought up of the best scenario, set up, joke, whatever, and your scene partner completely denies it or ignores it and moves on with their ideas instead. The exploration of your idea is now dead. Cue the sad piano music.
Saying “no” in an improv scene is perhaps one of the most deadly of sins. Why? Because it literally causes death. Not of the actors! Rather it kills the scene. It kills any possible exploration or new idea. Saying “yes” not only affirms the new information that has been presented into the scene, it opens a new world of possibilities for the scene that can escalate into something amazing!
As a clown, the phrase “yes, and...” is more than just a phrase. It is an active philosophy. Whenever we are in a scene, and something happens, we must have a proper reaction to it (this is the “yes” part because we have just confirmed that that really just happened) and then we must act upon what just happened in the way your clown would (this is the “and” part because you are building upon what just happened). Although we may never say the actual phrase, our reaction and action does.
The clown has a huge advantage over the normal actor in this regard. The actor has a script and must keep to it or at least close to it. Clowns, however, are supposed to be experiential creatures. We feed off of what is happening in the moment. Even if it means we go off “script” (if you even have one). Don’t get me wrong, watching a well thought out and rehearsed gag is breathtaking. What is truly better, though, is seeing something go not as planned and watch how the clown reacts. A true “yes, and...” clown will use what just happened to their advantage.
The “yes, and...” philosophy truly humbles performers. It allows us to let go of initial stressors and allows us to think creatively and on the spot. It teaches us to take what life gives us and make something of it.
I was doing a short scene once and I had to blow up a balloon to do a mime exercise called, “heavy and light”, where the balloon seems to have a mind of its own. Well, the balloon was defective and when I was tying it off, it popped. Instead of being embarrassed and rushing to get another balloon, I just froze. Staring at what once was a beautiful balloon. With a growing sad face.
I just lost my beautiful balloon friend in a tragic accident.
Not moving my hands (they still looked like they were holding a balloon) and slowly I looked up at the audience with the saddest look I could muster in that moment. My dearest balloon just died. Instead of going through with the planned gag, I decided to stick with this new issue. The audience ate it up.
I tried CPR on the balloon. I ended up having a funeral for the balloon. Played the sad mouth trumpet song of a fallen comrade. Saluted the balloon. Walked it over to a nearby trashcan and threw it away.
I didn’t plan for any of that to happen. Yet, I accepted it (YES) and I acted upon what just happened in the most sincere way my clown could (AND). What followed became such a real experience for my clown and the audience. I literally just made the audience fall in love with and mourn for the loss of a cheap balloon! This is the power of “yes, and...”.
Saying “YES” In Your Normal Life - Application
You can easily apply the techniques and philosophies you learn as a performer into your normal life. “Yes, and...” is no exception. In fact, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend adding this to your daily habits. Not only will you see a positive change in your life, it will also come more naturally when you perform.
Building awareness forces you to reevaluate. It’s remarkable and a little disheartening to note how often the first reaction to things is “No”. Saying “Yes, and…” forces you to notice and reevaluate the reflexive No’s in one’s life.
Each moment is a tiny explosion of possibilities. The practice of “improvising” your life is a reminder that each moment is a tiny choice. You’re responding or reacting to what comes at you every minute and every second of the day. There’s possibility inherent in literally every single moment. It’s intense. Those small moments add up to a lifetime. Literally!
When life hands you avocados, make guacamole. Get some chips and have a party! As a clown, whatever happens in your performance, use it to build and show who your clown persona is. Do this more often, and you’ll develop a keen eye and quick mind for these moments. The greatest clowns of all time developed this very sense, and you can as well. Just start by saying, “yes, and...”, then fill in the rest!