For the past year, Lyra and I have been happily struggling through improv classes at the renowned Second City Improv Training Center in Chicago. It has been great fun. The camaraderie within my ensemble is priceless.
The first thing we were taught was to say “Yes, and…” to everything your scene partner proposes and figure it out afterward. You treat everything your scene partner says or does as a gift that you build upon.
For example, you may initiate a scene by saying, “Honey, I really think we should take that trip to Fiji.” Your scene partner should agree and build on that... For example, “Yes! And I feel it would be great for our relationship if we took midnight strolls along the moonlit Fiji beach and listened to the waves crash into the shore.” They you might say, “Yes! And we can build a bonfire...and drink wine until the sun comes up! Let’s put our scuba gear on and practice right now!” End scene...
Photo by Lyra Jakabhazy
Then other members of your ensemble can jump in and create a new scene, building on the Fiji idea, where maybe the couple is on the beach and a pirate named Jack Sparrow crashes the party! ...and things start to get crazy! …you can fill in the blanks. The objective is that everyone in the ensemble builds on the gifts that each member brings to a scene.
If you respond to your scene partner by saying, “Yea, but…” or “No, we can’t afford to travel…” nothing is added to the scene and often, it throws your novice scene partner into a panic…it might be funny to watch a novice improviser panic on stage, but it usually makes the audience to feel uncomfortable.
Check out the Liam Neeson improv sketch with Ricky Gervais on how NOT to do improvisational comedy!
Photo by Joshay Ferguson
Second City proclaims that the foundation of improv is the ensemble. The ensemble is there to back up the scene’s partners. When the scene is ready to be refreshed, or has run its course, or is slowing, the ensemble is there to relieve the current improvisers and keep the energy flowing.
Most importantly, all the members in the ensemble are there to build on whatever is created by saying, “Yes, and…” to each other. The sense that they actually have your back is comforting and encourages all ensemble members to take greater risks when initiating scenes.
It is widely known that creativity thrives best within boundaries. In improv, the boundaries are set by a “Get” from the audience. The “Get” given by the audience could be a “place that people often gather” such as a wedding or “a period in time” such as the Victorian Age or “clique in high school” such as the Mean Girls or “a never before seen musical” such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer Opera…the imaginary back story behind the scene.
And always remember, creativity also thrives on permission…that is, permission to push THE boundaries set by the audience. Ultimately, by saying “Yes, and…”, you are giving your scene partner(s), and yourself, permission to create something new and playful that pushes the boundaries of normalcy.
Finally, as novices, we are told, “don’t try to be funny!” If you try to be funny, it usually means that you are thinking ahead and are not FULLY PRESENT in the NOW. You should be FOCUSING on and reacting to your partner…not premeditating what you are going to say or do. Trying to be funny in improv does not work well because it often comes off as rehearsed or cliché.
Of course, improv should be funny or people would stop coming to the shows! But humor flows better when it is organic, arising from the human relationships that the improvisers recreate on stage.
|Photo by Lyra Jakabhazy|
I am especially thankful to Lyra, my ensemble members Brian, Hanna, Josip, Kelly, Kimber, Mac, Randy, Richard, Stass, The Second City teachers Tim Sozsko, Janna Sobel, Mark Czoske, Jay Steigmann, Jay Sukow and Ryan Bernier who all have been “Yes, And”-ing me the past year.
Edited by Marina Kiskovich