How and Why to Play the "Yes, And" Improv Game

Learn to work with your fellow actors by playing the "Yes, and" Improv Game

Unless you're the star of a one-person show, your acting experience will involve a lot of cooperation and engagement with other actors. In theory, you should be able to pick up on your fellow actors' body language and tone, responding appropriately and seamlessly even in the trickiest situations. 

For example, what actor hasn't been part of a scene in which lines are dropped? What happens next? Without proper training, actors often stand speechless wondering what happened and what to do next.

With an understanding of improv and cooperation, however, actors can seamlessly continue the scene, guiding the story back to the script.

Similar situations occur in live theater all the time. A prop has disappeared, a cue is missed, a table is in the wrong position -- and actors must work together to keep the scene moving forward in a plausible manner.

Part of proper training for the unexpected involves improv work that requires creative cooperation. The game "yes, and -" forces actors to avoid rejecting other cast members' ideas, and, instead, to find a way to go with the flow. "Yes, and-," of course, is the opposite of "no, but -," a response that can lead to catastrophe on stage.

The game "Yes, and-" is very simple. In an improv situation, actors are required to accept their fellow actors' ideas and build on them. For example, at the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot:

Character #1: What a hot and miserable day to be a ranch hand!

Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.

Character #2: Yep and the boss said we don’t get no water until this fence is mended.

Character #1: Yes and ain’t he the meanest cuss we’ve ever worked for?​

Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for San Francisco.

Now, the scene could continue on indefinitely with the actors simply agreeing with one another. However, it’s best to develop conflict as well. For example:

Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for San Francisco.

Character #1: Yes and you’d be broke twenty minutes after stepping off the stage coach.
Character #2: Yeah and I supposed you think you could do better?!
Character #1: Yes! And after I made my fortune panning for gold I come back and buy this sorry ranch and you’d be working for me!!!

After working on “Yes And” exercises, actors ultimately learn how to do scenes in which they embrace the ideas and concepts offered by fellow performers. You don’t actually need to say the words “Yes And” for the system to work. Simply affirm what the character is saying and allow it to build the scene.

If you deny your fellow performer, here’s what happens:

Character #1: What a hot and miserable day to be a ranch hand!

Character #2: No it’s not. And we’re not ranch hands either.

Then the scene is dead in the water before it even had a chance!