So, the month of “Yes, And” has come to a close. But of course, not without its challenges.
The challenge I’m about to describe is something that I struggled with even when I conceived of this project. The question at hand: will playing by the rules of improv really make a difference if I’m the only one playing? Isn’t improv all about cooperation and support? And therefore, doesn’t it take 2+ people playing by the rules of improv to have it work?
As I mentioned in my last post, saying “Yes, And” isn’t really about being a “yes-man.” It’s about supporting the decisions your scene partner makes, and contributing to the continuation of the scene. In other words, it means don’t deny on stage (but we like to frame things in a more positive light).
Yet this happens occasionally. There are varying levels of skill and experience in the early levels of iO classes. Some of us are brand new, others of us have a particular type of experience (like my own with college improv), and others are fully trained actors/improvisers looking to tune up their mad skillz. Needless to say, breaking the “rule” of “Yes, And” isn’t uncommon for beginners; we’ve all been there. It’s like when you were in 1st grade and you wrote “s” instead of “z” and your “g”, “p”, and “q” all sort of looked the same. Eventually, you learn what the heck you’re doing (although I wonder what assumptions about our language alien life forms would make from my 1st grade assignments.)
The learning process is helped by people correcting you. The other day in class, an improviser was playing an old woman. Her young, energetic counterpart mentioned her ornately decorated walker and she replied, “This isn’t a walker! It’s a wheelchair!” DENIAL. Luckily, our instructor took this as a teaching moment. But I’ve been in scenes where there is almost this impassable wall of denial from the other actor (either a newb, or a professional just having a bad day), and you can’t just stop a scene to use it as a teaching moment. What do you do in those situations? Faced with constant denial, you should still continue to support. But that can be exhausting and exceedingly difficult. Once I was in a scene where I played an enthusiastic young housewife opposite a grumpy old husband. When I tried to get dinner out of the oven, he told me I wasn’t making dinner. I played confused – “Oh, silly me!” When I said our dog was hungry, he told me we didn’t have a dog. Eventually, my character had eroded to nothingness, except for the assertions that he put upon me, because every time my character made an assertion about her reality, it was denied. Now, this could have turned into a game, but that was not the context or intent of this given scene (and it takes two to tango/create a game).
A lot of times when I ask questions in here, I’m really musing to myself and it’s either a rhetorical question or I already have decided upon the answer, but I’m actually asking you, my readers: how do you handle constant denial in a scene? (I hope this is not something that any of you has much experience with.)
Anyhow, this maps onto real life, I promise. I am seeing this guy right now, Y. Y and I enjoy each other’s company mutually, and in approximately equal amounts, but sometimes I can’t help but feel like I am putting more into this than he is. I let him know when I’m thinking of him, I initiate our hang outs, I enjoy giving him presents (not necessarily of a tangible type, but tokens of my affection: back rubs, praise for his accomplishments, etc.). I am fairly certain he is as into me as I am into him (I think, or at least hope, that I’m unbiased), but I can go days without hearing from him. I’m a Leo. I need attention. (Yes, I know that horoscopes are not very scientific and as a psychologist I should not subscribe to them… but whatever.)
The thing is, I enjoy giving. I like letting him know how I feel about him. So these aren’t entirely selfless actions. But they’re still signs of support. And like in improv, what do you do when that support isn’t necessarily being returned?
A) Play a game (advice from a female friend: “If you ignore him, he’ll realize how much he misses you and fight harder.”)
B) Drop him (advice from a male friend: “If he isn’t what you want, look somewhere else.”)
C) Keep on doing what I’m doing anyhow
Maybe you can come up with other options, but this is what I came up with. I was honestly planning on choice A, and then if that didn’t work, resorting to an ultimatum/Choice B. But the thing is, let’s be real, I like this guy. So, in what was a rather hard decision for which I constantly doubted myself, I followed the rules of “Yes, And” and chose C. That’s right – I am committed to this project! 🙂
You know what? It paid off. What would I have done if Y hadn’t returned my support? I don’t know that I have an answer for that. (Refer to the above not-so-rhetorical question.) But here’s the key point: he did. Support, support, support. If the person you’re supporting is anyone who is anyone, they’ll step up their game and support you too (which explains why I was hard pressed to think of scenes of completely constant denial.) It may take them a while to come around, and they might not meet you dollar for dollar. But people realize if they’re being supported, and I guess it’s almost a natural response to support in return. I should have realized that some of the rules of improv are more implicit than I made them out to be. After all, social psychologists talk often about how, as an innately social species, it is in our best interest to support the group/those around us, because if everyone is supporting everyone and working together, then we all survive to reproduce (evolutionarily speaking, this is the piece de resistance.) They talk about it as the selfish gene which makes us a social being.
When my improv teacher took that teaching moment, she summed up by saying, “The reason we agree with one another is to discover things about our relationships.” This month, by saying “Yes, And”, I’ve discovered a lot of important things about my relationships (platonic and romantic), about my environment, and about myself. The key is to agree with what you’ve got; don’t resist, don’t deny. “Yes, And” it.