If there is an absolute truth in improvisation, a principle that must be adhered to, it’s “always say yes.” It’s a powerful maxim and it needs a good deal of qualification.
“Always say yes,” is derivative of improv’s golden rule: Yes, And. Yes is about embracing the situation you are in. And is about finding a way to capitalize on your circumstance. Yes is about affirming your own creativity and openly accepting the ideas of others. And is about working with, and building upon, those ideas. Yes, And is the system by which all improvisation operates. It teaches performers how to go with the flow and co-create. If you have an idea, I’m going to agree to your idea and add to it. That’s Yes, And.
Yes, And is a radical concept because it works against our inclination to deny, find fault with, and problematize ideas. It’s the antithesis of negative thinking.
Typically, when an idea is presented to us, we’ll say “no, that idea won’t work because of x, y and z.” Our instinct is to identify what is wrong with the idea. Perhaps, we are polite, so instead of being blunt and saying “no,” we say Yes, But. “Yes, you have this idea, but it won’t work because of x, y and z.” Yes, But is a more sophisticated and pretentious way of saying “no.”
My point is we say no all the time, to ourselves and to others. No, I can’t hang out this week No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. No, I don’t have it what it takes. No, I could not be more clear. No, I cannot love myself. No, I can’t love you. No, I can’t move on. I don’t know what to do. No, I’m not capable. No, it won’t get better. No, I can’t rhyme And, no, I don’t need help. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve this. It can’t change. I can’t stop. No, I cannot. Yes, I could say yes but for now, I will not.