#7 Yes And…

A rule of improv is “Yes, and…”

It’s a simple idea; any prompt or direction given by your scene partners is to be affirmed (“Yes) while being built upon (“and…”). Partner says, “Thanks for taking me to the playground, mom.” You say, “I know you love it out here son” (yes). “Why don’t we try the swings?” (and).

The rule is a good one, because it forces sharing a scene, requires building together, and prevents scene squabbling from undercutting the other person (no “no” allowed; as in “You aren’t my son!”). This always makes for a better show for the audience.

Sounds simple, difficult in practice. Because of ego. We get a prompt from the audience: “Park.” I think of a hilarious (I mean Hi-Larious!) idea of trying to parallel park on a city street. I turn to my partner and she says, “Thanks for taking me to the playground, mom.” Everything in me says that my idea is better than some stupid mother/son playground bit. I should correct her with my better idea! Wouldn’t the world be better if we always used my idea?

Then the rules and the training kick in, and I say, “I know you love it here, son.”

And the history of improv smiles upon us saying, “we know that the world would not be better if we always used your idea; in fact, the world is better with ‘yes, and…’”

I think it was David Storrs that first pointed out that this is a truism in many areas of life – most obviously in faith. I have my plans. God says, “I have an idea…” My life is better if I don’t correct God; rather if I say, “Yes, and…”

Since both my girl and I are improv trained, we realized long ago that “Yes, and…” is also a good rule in marriage. Always been driven crazy by people who say, “Our marriage is a partnership,” and then brag, “Of course, I’m the head of the household, which means I make the decisions, and if she knows what’s good for her, she obeys!”

Makes me want to find a paper version of a dictionary, rip out the page covering “parameters” to “Pax Romana” and staple it to somebody’s nose. Which wouldn’t be very nice of me.

Our marriage strives for “Yes, and…” Active listening to each other as part of decision making. Hearing each other’s dreams, desires, and flights of fancy. Mutually sacrificing our ideas to theirs (key on mutual). Taking turns – for example, we would alternate who is responsible for the steady income/health insurance while the other can pursue their God-given talent.

Not just “yessing” the other person, mind you. “Yes, and…”ing. Taking their lead and actively adding to it. Making it ours, not hers or mine. Letting go and building something new together.

We don’t also make it of course. You know, because of ego. Me refusing to let go of my idea even after claiming to let her lead; her being reluctant in the “and” as she doesn’t quite buy in fully. And sometimes, in retrospect, we may both agree that a scene about parallel parking would have worked better than that one about the playground.

Yet we’ve found that the history of improv has smiled upon us, as we know our lives together have been more… together… because of our attempts to play by this rule. Our marriage has survived downturns and detours because of our attempts to play by this rule. We both are better scene partners, and thus make better scenes because of our attempts to play by this rule.

Nearly twenty-five years and seven months ago, I asked her a question.

She said, “Yes, and…”

{originally posted as part of the countdown to our silver anniversary}

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