Improvisation is a complicated mix of strategy, spontaneity, and partnership. Allowing yourself to rely solely on your instincts, while feeding off of everything your acting partner is giving you, is often difficult to balance. Occasionally your partner is a friend who you share a sense of humor with, making the job of improv easier. Other times you may not be so lucky. Nevertheless, following the simple “Yes, and…” technique can help you in almost any improv situation.

Bob Kulhan from Big Think, an organization of thinkers dedicated to solving “big ideas,” carefully describes the “Yes, and…” technique as the “cornerstone of improvisation.” He proceeds, defining both the “yes” and the “and…” parts of the principle. Kulhan explains, “‘Yes’ means you accept everything that’s brought to you, regardless of who brought it to you, regardless of what it is, regardless of what you think it means based on who gave it you—you accept it at face value.” Improvisation allows for more creative freedom than scripted acting, meaning that the only form of direction at times is the little bit of information given to you during the performance. He continues with the “and,” identifying it as “the bridge to your thoughts, the bridge to your movement, the bridge to how you respond to others who are reacting to this event in real time as well.”

He praises this rule, contrasting it against the way the human mind naturally works. He argues, “We’re analytical thinkers, we’re critical thinkers, we have to learn to take that critical hat off, and create an environment which it’s okay for ideas to fail.” In other words, improv is still an experimental form of acting. Some takes may hit, but others will miss. That isn’t meant to discourage, but inspire. Over time, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, but never be afraid to take risks. Kulhan concludes with a simple message, “In order to create this environment, which people can come up with these ideas, and diverge their thinking, you have to cling to ‘Yes, and…’ so that you’re not editing too quickly.”

Whether you are an improv professional or beginner, give this technique a try and see how much it helps you perfect the craft.

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