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by Darren Held

by Sonnjea Blackwell

One of the things I try to do as an improv instructor is make it as easy as possible for my students to start making good habits. I know, duh, right? But in all seriousness, it’s so much easier to teach people to make strong choices from the beginning than to help them overcome bad habits down the road.

“Yes, and” is, of course, the cornerstone of improvisation. And it’s as brilliantly simple as accepting what your scene partner has offered, and adding something to it. And yet, like most things that are brilliant in their simplicity, it is also ridiculously complicated. Do I, as an improvisor, have to agree with their character’s moral stand? What if I would never actually eat a puppy for dinner? And on and on.

Something I hit upon last week, just in time to teach the famous yes, and I/yes, and you exercise to a brand new group of untainted improv students, was the fact that people frequently “yes, and” the broad concept of a scene, rather than the specific information contained in the scene. And it’s the specific information that we want to build on.

So for this particular “yes, and” exercise, I had the students add a bit of information that tied DIRECTLY to the other person’s last bit of information. So if one student said, “Yes, and you got in your car,” the second student had to yes, and that specific information with something like, “Yes, and I put the key in the ignition” as opposed to a larger leap like, “Yes, and I drove to the store.” The results were amazing, and the students had a lot of fun taking those little bitty steps.

Naturally, in an actual scene, you aren’t going to belabor tiny minutiae like that. But by doing the exercise in this way, the students got off to a really excellent start of listening acutely to each tiny bit of information their partner gave, as well as making that tiny thing the important item they added on to.

So I guess my point is, it’s never to early (or too late) to make listening well your goal in an improv scene, and letting the little stuff be the big stuff.

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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