I’m standing in front of a closed door. I have two options: I can open it, I can not open it.
If I DON’T open it, what does the moment immediately after that decision look like? Well, it looks EXACTLY like it looked like before the decision. I’m still standing there. Nothing has changed. Nothing has happened.
But if I DO open the door…well…what it looks like after that decision will be related to what’s on the other side of the door! Is there a lady? Is there a tiger?1 A clown? A parallel universe? My parents? Someone I owe money to? Someone with a gun? A unicorn? Who knows??
I often tell students to “err on the side of YES”. When given the choice between NO and YES, choose YES. Like with the door, the audience and you already know what NO looks like! But YES is full of possibilities and potentially going in a direction that no one could’ve expected (which to me, is some of the fun of improv). We know what NOT opening the door looks like. We know what NOT asking the person out looks like. But, we don’t know what YES holds…and finding out where YES leads is fun and exciting! So, err on the side of YES when faced with a choice in a scene!
Now, of course, there may be plenty of moments where NO will be the choice you want. Maybe your show is exploring bad relationships and the question comes up “do you still love me?” or it’s a Grey’s Anatomy/House/ER medical genre and the question is “did the MRI reveal anything?” Maybe NO is a better choice for these types of scenarios, but barring those, saying YES could take you somewhere unexpected and fun! We don’t know what YES looks like, so say Yes!
When you’re faced with these moments of “do i say no” or “do i say yes”, don’t let LOGIC get in the way!! I was once in a rehearsal scene and I was the IT person in an office environment. Someone else was getting interviewed for a job and says “well, yeah, I’ve been in jail but a lot of people has. [he points to me] Hey, IT guy, YOU’VE been in jail, right?” Now…my internal logic at this moment went like this: Hmmm…I’m the IT guy…chances are if I’ve been in jail then I wouldn’t have gotten hired for this job. Certainly wouldn’t pass the background check. “No, not me” I said. AUGH! I was such a horrible teammate at that moment! I didn’t support my teammate’s choice, I didn’t YES AND – and in fact, I believe my saying NO denied my teammate’s offer – and I stopped the flow of the scene. Saying YES would’ve kept the momentum going, would’ve kept the energy flowing. Sure, in real life, maybe someone with a criminal record might not hired as an IT employee but in improv, just say YES and discover where it leads!
Here’s an example…in this scene, I give Rich an option and he immediately chooses YES even though in real life, most people would say NO in this situation! (so, at this point in the show, we’ve found out that both of us have been part of an experiment in a cabin with no one else there and nothing to keep us entertained. We’ve learned everything there is to know about each other by now in the cabin).
That strong reaction from the audience was all just from Rich saying yes (or “sure”, in this case). He could’ve said NO and it would’ve been understood why – in real life, no one (well, barely anyone) would say yes to that offer! But, YES – and what happens AFTER the YES – is a surprise, one that the players and the audience get to enjoy!
If you find yourself saying NO on stage, next time you’re offered a NO / YES situation in a scene, try choosing the option that gives you possibilities and discoveries! Say YES!
1. I don’t expect anyone to get the reference but it’s one of the few literary references I recall from Mrs. Mobley’s 9th grade English class! I made it, Mrs. Mobley! I made it!!