Making It Up As We Go Along- An improv story

Sylvan Improv are some of my favorite people in the entire city. I first met Sylvan Productions co-founder Andrew Moore through a TBS -sponsored comedy competition where we were teammates. From that point we became friends, and eventually I found out that he had a Tuesday night improv open mic that he was starting with co-founder Justin Gomes from their production company Sylvan Productions. Turned out that the open mic he referred to was a bunch of folding chairs in his back yard with beer, pizza, and strangers that I had never met before. By this point I was already a part of Improv Nation at SFSU, a group that emphasized structure, and having a solid improv base rather than being funny.

The Sylvan improv open mic was almost the opposite from the time it started. Bringing in a lot of attention from stand up comedians in the area, the Sylvan improv open mic is a constant stream of jokes and laughs, a freedom that Improv Nation doesn’t embrace as much.  Sure there are certain drawbacks to being completely free and lacking some structure, but nobody is censored, and that is something unique and special.

The improv open mic moved to the Dark Room Theater in the mission between 18th and 19th St. nearly two years ago and has been there until just recently.  It is a free open mic and invites anyone and everyone to come and do improv no matter what their background in improv is.  The free and inviting nature allows for a varied and welcoming environment for everyone in San Francisco. The open mic just celebrated its first night in its new venue the SUBmission at 2183 Mission St.

Rejection never gets you anywhere in improv or life

For those of you who have ever done improv there is nothing more disheartening then throwing out an idea and having someone squash it and instead follow their own ideas. As a matter of fact, even those who don’t do improv know this feeling because it is both universal and prevalent in our everyday encounters. We all know that one person who just says “no” for the hell of it, and it’s enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails.

Improv knows that rejections, while they may be funny sometimes, are bad moves and stop scene momentum in a heartbeat.  That is why the ‘Yes and’ rule was invented, which states that an improviser should take the suggestion of their team member and say yes, but not only say yes but instead also add something to the conversation to give it direction and momentum. Sure there are the improv acting aspects of the rule, but one thing i want to impart on you my readers is that it definitely has real life applications.

As said it is the “Yes and” rule and not just the ‘yes’ rule.  It is easier when someone agrees with you in comparison to a blatant no, but without the other person adding anything all the pressure is put on you. In some cases people prefer the position of power and take advantage of ”yes men,” but to make a true team effort all the pieces should be making equal and commendable efforts to help make each person’s job easier.

There are articles and books that speak directly to the idea of “yes” and how it can improve life. I personally find a lot of them cheesy but in the end there is some legitimacy behind the whole idea. Now I’m not an inspirational speaker but i can tell you one or two things.

No, in its essence, is a stopping word, it prevents progress, whereas yes shows an openness to new ideas and a possibility for new things.  Being closed-minded in an improv scene or real-life capacity creates stagnancy and awkwardness. When you shut out the ideas of others you leave yourself no safety net if your personal effort isn’t enough.

Improv is a team sport. As funny as you may be, improv with one person will never be the same as seeing a group work harmoniously together on the fly of their pants.  That is why improv isn’t always about being funny; it’s about receiving ideas from others, agreeing with them completely, and then throwing an extra gift to add to the ideas on the table, etc.

In business teamwork is not unheard of, and the ability to be open to new ideas and agree with the inclinations of others is a useful skill. Taking a boss’request and getting it done, but also adding extra value to the task is a sure way to stand out and be unique.

There are plenty of improv skills that translate to real life and this is one of the key ones. To summarize:

1. Saying yes to new things and ideas in improv and real life creates new opportunities or can give a scene direction

2. No, is a universally stopping word and prevents progress on stage and in life, rather than bolstering it.

3. Don’t just say yes, yes and allows you to do more than just support the ideas of others. It allows you to add to the pool of ideas, while also taking in others’ suggestions.

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