I like to have a base to work from before jumping into play focused on this Principle of Improv. "Yes, and..." might be one of the toughest principles to truly put into action. That said, it's probably one of the most powerful to apply to our interactions in the classroom...and in life.
Here's the basic idea: In any game, in any scene, in any interaction, we are presented with "offers". As I brainstormed with my class of 7th- and 8th-graders today, an offer in a scene might be an accent, a setting, a relationship, a character name, etc. An offer in class might be an idea for a group project, an agenda item for a class meeting, a mathematical problem-solving strategy, etc. Rather than rejecting offers, or even accepting them but really promoting our own agendas, this principle urges players to truly accept the first offer presented. Further, "Yes, and..." asks participants to build on the offers we've just accepted. This is the power of true collaboration; in YesAnd-ing each other, we validate and co-create ideas. Pretty amazing stuff, really.
HOW TO INTRODUCE "YES, AND..." IN A WORKSHOP
There are countless approaches one could use to introduce this principle, but here are the games I chose for today. Whatever method you develop, allow the class to warm-up, connect, build some skills and concepts, play, and (hopefully) perform.
- Warm up with "Ball": Assess the class's (and individuals') level of engagement; side-coach to encourage collaboration and awareness.
- Conveyer Belt: This is a simple game in which pairs of students take turns giving each other space-object "things" for one minute each. The "receiver" in the game enthusiastically accepts each offer as a gift, perhaps saying why that thing is useful to them. Warm-up by asking the pairs of students to make eye contact with each other for 30 seconds or so. Then, do a quick space-object check-in: Have all of the students look at you and hold out their hands. Ask them to imagine holding a ball in their hands. Encourage them to "feel" the ball--this is a light ball with a bumpy texture. Now, encourage them to imagine that this ball is quite heavy--a medicine ball or a bowling ball. Now, it's turned into a ball-shaped pile of feathers. Ask them to toss the feathers in the air. Have them be that specific when they hold objects they're passing in "Conveyer Belt". The dual focus of this game: space-object introduction / accepting offers with commitment.
- Party Planning: After fully introducing the concept of "offers", I had the entire class stand in a circle, and I asked five kids to stay standing while the rest of us sat down. I told them everyone would be performing today, and that this first group would be planning a party--with enthusiasm, and as characters who were not their everyday selves. The catch: they had to vehemently reject EVERY offer the other players put out there. We went through two rounds of this performance game...and oh, boy--it was fruitless. With everyone sitting down, we processed how it felt to be in a group in which all offers were rejected. As audience members, we noticed that not much was said. Folks in these groups didn't really see it as worth the risk to put out offers they knew were just going to be shot down.
- Ad Agency: Another group demonstrated a similar activity, this time developing a marketing and advertising campaign for an object that had never existed before. (The audience suggestion I took: a magical caterpillar.) The catch: they had to accept every offer, BUT they had to then push forward their own agenda/ideas. I call this "Yes, but..."
Some audience members noticed that this felt quite similar to the rejection games we had just witnessed, while others believed it felt slightly more positive and productive than the first two rounds.
- Yes, and... Party Planning and Ad Agency: The last two groups got to model the two games using the "Yes, and..." principle of improv. I participated with one group and side-coached for the second, encouraging players to listen to each other, genuinely accept EVERY offer, and then add to each offer before moving on to the next idea.
If I had more time this morning, I would have moved out of the circle and taken volunteers to further demonstrate Yes, and... using these games in additional performances. There's always tomorrow, eh!?
Our processing was pretty incredible during and after today's workshop. We noticed how difficult it is to maintain eye contact with someone for less than one minute...and reflected on how we tend to avoid real connections with one another. After talking about the various principles of improv, I closed today's workshop with tossing a stuffed animal around and asking some kids to share out a principle they either find easy or challenging to apply to their improvisational or classroom work. I heard, "I have a hard time listening," and "It's natural for me to commit to what I'm doing and really put myself out there." One of the last words of today's improv session was from Justin: "'Yes, and...' is not easy for me. I automatically reject ideas rather than building on them. It's something I'm working on."
Such honesty after an hour's workshop with 12- and 13-year-olds! As a society, we tend to disregard this age group. We put them into a box, complain about how much time they spend texting and checking out Facebook, and assume adolescents are apathetic folks who are incapable of genuine human interaction. Instead, let's give them opportunities to truly engage with one another and reflect on what's natural and what's challenging for them as individuals. These are the people who will be leading and caring for us in a short while. Let's trust them, and support them, to interact and evolve in meaningful ways.