learn from comedy

Reframing Life Through Improv

In my book, Healthy Living from A to Z: The Guide to Finding who you Really are and Feeding who you were Created to be, I mention that one of my favorite things to watch is improv, also known as improvisational theater. I will never forget the very first time I saw an improv show. It was at The Second City comedy club in Chicago and I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life! That night I realized what we can learn from comedy.

Improvisational theater is a performance style in which most or all of what is performed is unscripted. The performers create the dialogue, action, story, and characters collaboratively in present time. To watch this unfold is nothing less than watching creative genius at work! If you’ve ever watched the TV show, Whose Line is it Anyway, you have seen improv.

When I left that Chicago comedy club, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around how effortlessly these actors made the whole thing look! I kept thinking, “How in the world are they able to do that in such a way that makes complete sense (well, maybe not always complete sense, but always completely hilarious)?” 

So, in true “Rhonda Says…” fashion, I researched how they did it. Although improvisational theater can be traced back to 391 BC, the modern version took root in the early 20th century and was developed further by Viola Spolin in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. And here’s the cool thing. Spolin influenced the first generation of modern American improvisers. Her son, Paul Sills, along with David Shepherd began The Compass Players, which operated from 1955-1958. In 1959, Paul, along with Bernard Sahlins and Howard Alk, began The Second City. 

Without even realizing it, my first experience with improv was in the place where it all began in America. No wonder I was so enthralled! I was with some of the very best in the business! Many people from The Second City land bigger jobs, such as Saturday Night Live.

But the big question remained…HOW do they do this? Turns out the first (but not the only) rule of improv is to learn the “Yes, And” rule, also known as the “Don’t Deny” rule. This rule simply means that you should always say yes. Regardless of how “out there” the scenario being created by your fellow actor; you must build upon what they have created. You should never deny the unfolding scenario. So, if the actor begins by accusing you of being weird, then using the “Yes, And” principle would mean that you accept that as reality and keep the story moving forward. You wouldn’t argue the case that you’re not weird.

Improvisation coach, Dan Klein, says it is important to remember that the “yes” and the “and” are equally important. To accept the scenario but not move it forward or to redirect the scene that doesn’t support the acceptance of the scenario would ultimately end the performance.

How can we apply this principle to our lives? How can we live “Yes, And” existences so that we are embracing change instead of fighting against it? Let me show you how!

“Yes, And” is easy if it concerns something to which your mind is already open. So let’s look at the hard stuff.  How do we “accept” our situation and “move forward” when we are totally opposed to the situation in the first place?  How can we learn from comedy?

Think of a situation you are currently encountering or have recently encountered that was out of your control and made you uncomfortable, upset, sad, or angry. As an obvious example during this time I will give the example of my business closing due to COVID-19.

Now say out loud, “Yes” and repeat the scenario. For me, it’s “Yes, my business has had to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Here’s the hard part…keeping it moving in a POSITIVE direction. Because to respond with a negative direction would indicate that you have NOT accepted the scenario and therefore, cannot move forward. See how many “Ands” you can come up with.

In my example, “YES, my business has had to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak AND

  1. I will think creatively to find ways to keep the business afloat during this time.
  2. I will offer support to the people who work with me.
  3. I will show concern toward the people around me.
  4. I will offer support within my field of expertise to help others during this time.
  5. I will allocate some of this time to plan for recovery so when we open, we are ready to hit the ground running.
  6. I will use part of this time to write articles and plan for speaking events.
  7. I will stay connected with friends and family so I don’t get too depressed from loneliness.
  8. I will research what is happening and educate myself so that I can make informed decisions surrounding my business and my own personal health.
  9. I will allow myself to occasionally have pity-parties and to feel sad because those things are completely normal parts of the human experience. At the same time, I will set a limit to how long I allow these emotions to invade my peace.
  10. I will work on meditation as this tends to be a neglected part of my self-care.
  11. I will use this time to really focus on eating healthy, life-sustaining meals.

You get the picture. I invite you to use this process, no matter how dire your situation. Please know that accepting your situation does NOT mean you don’t prepare for better. I truly believe that all change must begin with acceptance of where we are. I will give a few examples of horrible situations, hoping that if any of these are you, you may see a way through the grief and the pain into a better place. Please add your own “ands.”

Yes, my loved one has died and

  1. I will honor them by volunteering for _________ foundation.
  2. I will keep their memory alive by…
  3. I will make an appointment to speak with a grief counselor.

Yes, I am currently living in an abusive relationship and

  1. I know I deserve better.
  2. I know I am a good person regardless of what this person says to me.
  3. I will reach out to the appropriate people who can help me without putting me in more danger.

Yes, I have been given a fatal diagnosis and

  1. I will live the rest of my life in boldness.
  2. I will give my body the best nutrition I can.
  3. I will do some of the things I have always wanted to do.

My heart goes out to everyone dealing with the hard parts of life. And we all know that there are plenty of hard parts. My prayers and hopes for you are that you know you aren’t alone, you know you are loved, and you know that you matter. Accept where you are AND make plans to move forward, in a positive direction, feeling worthy enough to ask for help and humble enough to take it.

I would love to hear your stories.

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