Turns out the “Yes” isn’t the difficult part of “Yes, And”ing. It’s the “And.” For me, at least.
I’ve been trying to be consciously aware of when something is being offered to or asked of me, and then to proceed with saying yes. Honestly, saying “yes” hasn’t been too difficult for me so far. I am definitely a people pleaser (from a large-ish family that makes sport of arguing, I have very easily adopted the role of peace-keeper). For instance, when offered the opportunity to assist a professor with some extra work that he was not going to be able to handle, I was delighted to say yes. It’s a win-win situation because this makes his life easier, and is a great professional opportunity for me. When a friend invited me to her birthday bash at a hockey game in a few weeks, I initially pussyfooted around. ‘Do I have enough money to go? Will I even know what the heck is going on?’ (You can kick a touch-down, right? Oh, well that’s my extent of knowledge of sports.) Then I thought to myself, this is your friend, it is her birthday, and you will take advantage of this invitation to have a good time and make her happy. Yes! I will go.
It’s the “and” that I’ve been having trouble with. In an improv scene, as I said in my first post, it doesn’t really do anyone any good if you’re simply saying, “Yes.” That puts pressure on the other person to be the sole contributor to the scene. Part of the “and” means reacting; giving the other improviser on stage a real, genuine reaction that tells them how you feel about what you’ve just said. For example:
Mary: Claire, I made out with your boyfriend last night.
Claire: Oh my gosh, isn’t he just the best kisser? I’m so glad that other people find him attractive, too!
Depending on Claire’s delivery in this pretty ridiculous example of a “Yes, and”, Claire has told Mary something about herself. Maybe she’s insecure, and just wants her friend’s approval. Maybe she is proud that she could snag such a cute guy. Maybe she’s so confident that he has eyes for no one but her that her boyfriend’s infidelity doesn’t phase her. Maybe she and Mary are such good friends that they share everything. Whatever, you get the picture. The point is, Claire accepts the reality that Mary made out with her boyfriend, and then gives Mary something to work with/tells her how she feels.
For some reason, I have difficulty with this in real life. I just love learning about other people (hello, psych person), and can’t help but ask probing questions or do things that will let me learn more about the people with whom I have relationships. For instance, it really doesn’t matter to me where we go to dinner, so I say “Yes” to whatever option is suggested. I want to get to know a new friend, so I say “yes” to his movie suggestion, or “yes” to her going-out plans. But I don’t add anything about what television shows I normally watch. I don’t say, “and after that bar, we can go see an improv show!” and show what I do for fun. Am I subconsciously worried that they won’t want to hear/know? (Oh, golly, let’s not dive too deep into Liz’s psyche here. I don’t think that’s the issue anyhow, because I try not to waste my time with people who don’t!)
This is all so ironic to me, because I don’t feel like I have any problem with opening up in real life and sharing about myself (heck, I even have a blog!). Maybe it’s just that I am so engulfed by trying to be supportive to them/understand them that I forget to open up about myself, too; I forget that they’d appreciate that. A while ago, I was reflecting to one of my friends on how supposedly open I am (hmm, if I am going to keep referring to random friends, it’s best to give them names by which I can refer to them. Let’s call him V). V said, “Um, Liz, not really. I don’t know anything about X,Y,Z.” V isn’t the only one who has felt like it was difficult to get close to me because I am so other-person centered. My sister constantly complains about how I know all of what is going on in her life but she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in mine.
Funny enough, an improv instructor’s words of wisdom for me were, and I quote, “I think the feeling of imbalance when trying to create a character while also being supportive and open to your scene partner is common, especially among women (Liz’s aside: I hope to later discuss gender politics in improv, but for now I hope that really thinking this suffices.) For you though, I would err on the side of selfishness; being supportive seems to come very naturally to you.” I’m not tooting my own horn by this; I really think this is a weakness of sorts, something I need to work on. So, this is going to be something I really emphasize in the next few weeks of the “Yes, And” rule. People want the “and”, because where can the scene (or in real life, the relationship) go from there?