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Yes And is a concept thought by many to be the defining principle of improvisational theory. It suggests that improvisers are obligated to accept the offers of their partners ("Yes"), and subsequently build upon those ideas with offers of their own ("And"). Denial is often suggested as opposite of Yes And.
Interestingly, the coining of this phrase hasn't famously been attributed to anyone. It is not formally referenced to in Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater or Keith Johnstone's Impro, although both of them allude to similar concepts.
Viola Spolin's theories champion listening and equality among improvisers. Listening is seen as integral ingredient to meeting your full potential for "experiencing," or creative output. This is in certain ways a more thorough and material rephrasing of Yes And. Her insistence on equality is a demand that each participant contribute equally. Charismatic performers should not, out of respect for the group environment in which they are working, monopolize the game or scene being played. This check to personal output is a call for more "Yes" when "And" is abounding.
Johnstone looks for acceptance from improvisers. He believes agreeing to an idea means daring to try something new and unknown, and that denying the idea is often a decision born out of fear. He encourages improvisers to trust their "boring" first ideas and let them grow, which, when applied to group work, is an endorsement of Yes And.
Upright Citizens' Brigade improvisational theory suggests that Yes And is only the most important tool to an improviser at the beginning of scenes, when they are obligated to establish a Base Reality. Yes And, in this view, expedites the process of finding a Who, What, and Where for the scene, allowing a context to solidify on top of which an absurd element can be found. This comedic detail is then used as the premise for the rest of the scene. Once this absurd element has been found, UCB encourages its students to switch mantras from "Yes And" to "If, Then," or "If this absurd element is true about the scene, then what else is true?"
The Annoyance Theatre's improv philosophy is famously revisionist, and strives to downplay the importance of all "traditional" improv rules. Mick Napier's book Improvise suggests that finding a Who, What, and a Where does not guarantee or even necessarily lead toward a successful scene. Instead, he suggests that entering a scene with a "deal," or a bold and committed choice for your own personal character, is more likely to produce good improv. In this light, the acceptance and collaboration championed by Yes And aren't necessarily emphasized. A confident, heartfelt disposition in each individual improviser is more of a priority. However, while Napier does outwardly condemn many improv rules in his book, Yes And is not among these. He suggests that it is still important, but that there are other priorities as well.
There are people who prefer to say 'yes' and there are people who prefer to say 'no'. Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain.
Good improvisers seem telepathic; everything looks pre-arranged. This is because they accept all offers made—which is something no ‘normal’ person would do.
Declare what you honestly want and live that vision fearlessly.
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.... the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you...The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.