The cardinal rule of improvisational theater is “yes, and…” – in other words, I say yes to what I’m given, and then add my own unique ideas to keep the scene moving forward. For example, I enter a scene and my partner says, “Our son has locked himself in the airplane restroom again!” I say “yes” to that statement by accepting and agreeing with the reality my scene partner is creating: “Mabel, just sit back down in your seat and leave him alone.” I ‘yes, and’ when I then add to it: “You coddle the boy so much it’s no wonder he holes up in tightly confined spaces. It reminds him of your womb.” On the flip side, I would be saying “no” to that statement by denying the reality of what I’ve been given: “What are you talking about, I don’t even know you, how can we have a son?” or “Mabel, you know there’s no such thing as an airplane in 1472 AD.” ‘Yes, and’ moves the scene forward. ‘No’ just throws up roadblocks and halts a scene in its tracks.
It seems like this philosophy tends to seep into an improviser’s core psyche over time and then spills out into their personal lives. I was up in Austin last weekend to check out a few shows and take a workshop and I’m always amazed at the inclusiveness of the extended improv community. I think the ‘yes and’ philosophy plays a big role in this.
After seeing performances of “Reform School for Wayward Girls” and “Maestro,” we were invited out for drinks with the cast of Reform School and a couple of the owners of The Hideout Theater: Kaci Beeler and Roy Janik. We were just a motley crew from Houston, but in typical improv artist fashion, these veterans of the Austin improv scene welcomed us with open arms. They shared their struggles and victories in running a theater, and listened as we poured out our hopes and dreams for the growing improv community in Houston.
In producing the Houston Improv Festival over the last few years, I’ve found the same to be true around the country. As I’ve met with improvisers from New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and LA they are quick to hear how this art form is growing in Houston and say ‘YES!’ to that pursuit, and then are thrilled to join us in this effort with a great big ‘AND.’
I challenge you to do the same. Say yes to an improv show at Beta Theater, CSz Houston, or Station Theater. Take one of the free introductory classes offered by these groups. Take some risks. It’s a great community and we’d love to have you join us!