When I was training for theater, there was an improvisational exercise that changed forever the way I live my life. It was called the “Yes, and …” game.
It goes like this. Actor A makes an imaginary, possibly ridiculous statement of fact. Actor B cannot deny the statement of fact in any negative way whatsoever. He has to accept its reality and continue the scene with “Yes, and …” adding his own perspective to the fact.1
A typical encounter might go like this: “I got picked up by the Aliens last night. They want you to return their spaceship.” “Yes, and they must realize by now that I’m not moving on this. Did they really think that threatening my brother was going to help?” “Yes, and they even offered Joan and me a nice cushy spot on the mother ship. You know how much that means to us, right?” And so on.
On stage, “Yes, and …” is important for an actor because it keeps the suspended disbelief alive. As soon as one actor denies the other’s reality, the scene will come screeching to a halt. There’s nothing left to talk about. Imagine how different Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be if Horatio does not in earnest accept the real pain of the King’s ghost. When actors are not grounded in the imaginary reality of the play, the audience will not enjoy the play, even if they don’t sense exactly why.
I came to understand how this particular acting game is a metaphor for living. When we approach any situation with a denial, however slight or couched, our connection and communication comes to a screeching halt, just like on stage. Negativity stops creativity. The same truth holds for listening to our lover, friend, parent or child. We cannot help or connect with them, unless we first manage to truly accept their reality.2
From that time on, I started living my life as if I were playing the “Yes, and …” game. It was one of the most positive things I ever did for myself. Ironically, many years later, Jim Carrey starred in a film in which he lived exactly this philosophy.
I Forgot to Say Yes
On our way south from Toronto, we couchsurfed with BeWelcome hosts, John Gunther and Susan Deer Cloud. John was excited to have some hiking buddies and had planned a Sunday hike for us.
When we awoke in the morning there were snow flurries coming down. Two Floridians hiking in the cold and snow was just not going to happen. Boy, did we ever say “no”. It’s a very good thing that John was persuasive. In the end, we reluctantly said “Yes, and …”.3
The day warmed a little and the 1100 foot ascent from the trailhead was enough exertion that we had to shed layers on the way up. In the end, we were glad we did the hike. We climbed the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower.4 It’s not something everyone has done, and fire towers are mostly not used anymore. Along the trail, the forest dressed in white chiffon was indeed very beautiful.
The hike reminded me that most pleasant memories, and all great adventures, start with “Yes, and …”.
More pictures are available here.