‘Yes… And…’ – The Art of Improvisation

'Yes... And...' - The Art of Improvisation

I was recently listening to a radio interview featuring a well-known comedy actor. The interviewer asked the secret of good improvisation. The answer? ‘Trust’.

Taking Risk

In creating anything through improvisation, there is an element of risk. Without a script, a score or a blueprint to follow, the artist/creator is stepping into the unknown. To reach a successful outcome, they will therefore need to trust their wits and instincts. Moreover, where group improvisation is concerned, all will need to trust one another.

But what risk is there, really, in making things up? For many it will be the fear of rejection or even ridicule. The act of creating inevitably invites scrutiny, comparison and judgement. We all want to feel valued. We want to know we are accepted and appreciated by our peers. So, their thoughts and opinions can make or break us.

Measuring Up

In an educational setting this can be even more pertinent. Young children are constantly measuring themselves against one another, both in work and play. When you add to this the need for continual assessment, this can be quite challenging.

For a child to present ideas they have thought up on the spot, within this context, it can be intimidating. They need to know that it’s OK to contribute, without risk of condemnation. Even if some of their ideas may not be the best.

More Comfortable

There are two keys to making this process more comfortable for everyone. One is to ensure that all participants are actively involved. In that way, all share the risk. Each can take comfort in the knowledge that they are ‘all in it together’. Not only does this make individuals feel less vulnerable, it also creates a powerful group bond.

The other is to apply what is sometimes referred to in comedy circles as the rule of ‘yes’. Or – as I heard it explained in another recent interview – the rule of ‘yes… and’. This is more or less as it sounds. When one improviser throws up an idea, the others must agree or go with it. And this can apply equally well to comedy, acting, music, dance or any other group improvisation.


Knowing that no matter what you come up with, your co-creators are going to run with it, makes it much easier to take the plunge and come up with something. Not only that but (using the ‘yes…and’ principle) they will enhance that idea. Which means that they are now equally invested in the process. And so, creation becomes co-creation.

The benefits within an educational setting are clear. And far-reaching. Youngsters are constantly pitted against one another, whether deliberately or otherwise. The experience of sharing ideas, efforts and vulnerabilities can, therefore, be both instructive and life-affirming.

Choose ‘Yes… and…’

And why limit this to creative pursuits? Perhaps we could all use these techniques more within our daily lives. Instead of saying ‘no… but’, perhaps it would be more constructive to choose ‘yes… and.’

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