Tuesday, 06 June 2006

The World is Waiting for You People with a Club; or, Yes-And Stephen, That's a Seminar By now you've already read Stephen Colbert's Commencement Address to Knox College's graduating seniors. You're familiar with his definitive refutation—via Matthew 14:22-33—of Jorge of Borgos' claim that although "the Son of Man could laugh . . . it is not written that he did so." However, his deft description of how to succeed in certain graduate seminars may've slipped your notice: So, say "yes." In fact, say "yes" as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the "-and." And then hopefully they "yes-and" you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. I've sat through countless seminars in which thirteen people yes-and for three hours with nary a thought to how what they yes-and now flatly contradicts what they just yes-anded. An hour of improvised thought distorts the original thought into a recognizable amalgam. Another hour and it jiggles as a million maggots gnaw their way out. By the end of the third neither the maggot hoard nor the yes-anders can stand to look at their creation. All leave the room in utter disgust and pledge never to participate in that foul ritual again . . . at least not until next Thursday. (This obviously doesn't pertain to all seminars. But boy oh boy does it pertain to some.) P.S. This conversation has only improved since last I pointed to it. Some have even foresook their studies to partipate in it. I'm almost unfrazzled enough to stop posting about comics and comic books to throw my $3.50 into the ring. Maybe tonight I will.

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