Beyond Yes And: Stumbling in the Right Direction (part 2)

In part one of the Beyond Yes And series, I talked about what it means to add information (instead of details) in every line. But is all information even useful? 

Let's revisit our example and try to add information in every line:

Janet: My cousin Ralph is sick.
Frank: Yes, and he is vomiting on my brand new shoe.
Janet: Yes, and those are expensive looking loafers.
Frank: Yes, and can you believe they were hand-me-downs from my grandpap!
Janet: Yes, and they just don't make shoes like they used to...

In this revised scene, we do a bit better job of adding new information in each scene. Instead of finding different ways to say "Ralph is sick," we are saying new things. 

BUT IT STILL SUCKS!

Why doesn't that feel much better? Chris Trew at The New Movement used this metaphor: think of the top of a scene as a wide open beach full of infinite possibilities. Each bit of information added is one of the players digging into the beach. Sometimes we make many small shallow holes all around an idea. Or sometimes we dig deeper into one hole.

This scene again follows the "Yes And" rules and even my guidance to add information in every line. Only now that information is making many shallow holes. Let's count the holes!

  1. Poor sick cousin Ralph
  2. Poor ruined Janet's shoe (Frank contributes to this hole)
  3. Frank's grandpap
  4. The good ole days

You: Ok I see your point. But in the last example, the lines were all about the same thing and that was a problem!
Me: Yes, now you're getting it!

We want to be adding information, but adding information that all points in the same direction. If this sounds hard, it's only because you've been improvising so long and you are used to (perhaps even good at) inventing things. We get in our own way.

The ideal place is allowing yourself to stumble. No need to think your way from one line to the next. To hold these "rules" or "guidelines" in your head. You just stumble forward line to line, listening intently to your scene partner with your eyes on the same prize. More on the how next week.

Beyond Yes And: Information in Every Line (part 1)

Both my YETI approach to starting scenes and the Change Machine form rely on adding information in every line. But what exactly does that mean? And what type of information is valuable to add? Why did I rename the blog a few months ago? I will answer these questions (and more!) in this short series. 

Early on in our improv careers we are taught "Yes And." Often this is taught as saying the literal word "Yes" followed by the word "and." At least this is how I learned it, and taught it myself in Level 1 classes.

This may be a necessary introduction, but it is not sufficient for our improv to become easy (i.e. stop feeling like work). To get the momentum of a scene building, we need more than "yes and." Allow me demonstrate:

Janet: My cousin Ralph is sick.
Frank: Yes, and he is vomiting on my shoe.
Janet: Yes, and his face looks awful green.
Frank: Yes, and we should get him to a hospital.
Janet: Yes, and they will have doctors who can cure him!

This scene is a reasonable "Yes And" example IMO. And if played with interesting and believable characters, it could be fun to watch. I still think it feels like work. With every line, each player is inventing new facts about Ralph.

My thesis: those 5 lines are really just adding one piece of information.

 
i-dont-believe-you.jpg
 

The distinction I am making is between "details" and juicy, bite-your-teeth-into-it bits that I call 'information."

So while Janet and Frank are adding a lot of details–e.g.

  1. The cousin is vomiting
  2. Frank is wearing a shoe
  3. The cousin's face looks green
  4. The cousin is so bad off to as require a hospital 
  5. Hospitals have doctors
  6. Doctors cure sick patients

I would argue all of these are really ONE piece of information: Janet's cousin is sick. It's the bit we started with. Details #5 and #6 aren't really specific to this scene. If anything #2 is a new bit of information, but is likely just added to support #1, a reformulation of "the cousin is sick."

Improvisers, even vets, will often tread water like this. Usually we are just filling silence and it's easy to repeat what's been said, sometimes we are being polite or waiting for something "interesting to happen," and on rare occasion we do this purposefully to allow time for our partner to get their premise on the table. 

I'm here to address the former. What does it feel like when we add information in every line? And how, practically, do we approach the work such that it's easy to do (that's my whole point after all!)? Well I ended with more questions, but it was just too much for one post. 

As this series builds, I will reshape that scene so information is added each line. In the mean time, watch this opening scene of Cakcowski & Talarico's performance at the 2014 Pittsburgh Comedy Festival. Watch it line by line. There are a few lines that repeat info (particularly when playing to the rhythm of the scene) but Craig and Rich freely add information on most lines. It makes it feel like we are watching a scene in progress. It brings laughs more often from the crowd and it quickly builds a solid foundation for them to explore. Enjoy!

And But Because

When teaching the early days of "yes, and," I focus on the word "and." Word choice is often demonstrative, and our intentions are revealed when we choose different words. If you really listen to yourself and the sentence you are creating, the words you say after "and" will likely be different than the words you will say after "but" or "because." Sometimes I describe what those other words tend to signify, descriptions I got from a book somewhere sometime.

Recently, one of my students asked me to break that down for them, so Iooked for that reference everywhere. I even asked some other SCIT teachers. No sign of it.

So I figured I'd recreate it from my memory and my own experience and put it up here for reference. As a bonus, if anyone knows where this is from, please let me know!

  • "Yes, and" says I agree with what you're saying and am going to build on it
  • "Yes because" and "Yes so" say I heard what you said but I want to follow the plot of the story rather than the emotional truth of what's happening between us right now.
  • "Yes, but" says I heard what you said but I think my idea is better. Or I heard but I don't feel comfortable with where this is going

Of course, over time we focus less on words and more on agreeing to the emotional truth, the game, the offer being made. But I think this distinction is interesting early on.