Say "Yes" Rather Than "No"

(image via Julian Lozano)

(image via Julian Lozano)

Recently I spent some time with an old friend, playwright and actor, Arlene Hutton ("Last Train to Nibroc" among others). It was a rich conversation about the creative process and what artists have to teach us about dealing with change more effectively. Here is what she said.

"In improvisation, the key is to say 'yes' rather than 'no'. When we say 'yes' we open the door to possibility and creativity. I was doing an improvisation exercise called "The Yes Game" where no matter what is said to you, you must respond, 'Yes, and...' The goal is to follow the thread and see where the conversation goes. I started the game. "

"Time to leave work", I began.

My partner said, "Yes, and it's getting late."

I responded, "Yes, and I must be getting home."

And he said, "Yes, and so must I."

Then I paused and said, "Yes, and I love you."

And he responded, "Yes, and you're married!"

Hmmm, I thought. Good one. Where does Arlene go from here? This was an interesting and tense moment. How could she resolve it without getting stuck or using cliche? But in theater, unlike in life, it is the moments of tension that are highly sought--where breakthrough often occurs.

Arlene continued our conversation. "When stuck in improve, the skill is to look for that which is right below your nose, the obvious." So I said, "Yes, and you have blue eyes."

And he said, "Yes, and so do you."

And I concluded by saying, "Yes, and let's Xerox them!" and we ended the scene creatively "copying" our eyes as gifts to the other--taking away a remembrance of our love but not acting upon it."

This is a great lesson in what to do when all else fails. Improvisation teaches us to start with that which sits right below our nose. Take an action, make a statement, try something--because any obvious action will often reveal the undiscovered jewel. The key is that you must stay with what is true, real, and honest. "...you have blue eyes" is all of those, and it took the actors to a new and creative solution, resolving the tension of possible infidelity. Delusion rarely works to create breakthrough.

The next time you are stuck, or in a place of uncreative tension, ask yourself, "What is the obvious that I am missing?" Once found consider, "How then do I take action on that which sits right below my nose?" When we do, we shift the landscape, revealing previously undiscovered solutions.