#1: Um, sir? Is there something I can help you with?
#2: Yes! I was given directions to this address to meet a man named Mr. Warty-nose. They said he could help me with … a problem.
#1: Ahh, yes. Mr. Warty-nose. He was just here a minute ago, but I think he went out for lunch with his pet monkey. Mrs. Warty-nose is here if you would like to speak with her? She is our best back hair stylist.
#2: Um, I could wait for Mr. Warty-nose? Can you tell me if he mentioned anything about a large package from the island of Bola-Bola?
In improv theater, that exchange is an example of the Yes Factor. And thinking about the Yes Factor always stirs thoughts about Christian contentment and biblical servanthood, which may seem like an unusual segué, but in both of these contexts, it all comes down to one little word: “Yes.”
The “Yes Factor” is a fundamental concept in improv, and I’m sure professional actors and experienced amateurs alike understand the practical aspect of this. But when you’re working with 12- to 15-year olds, the basics need to be repeated over and over before they’re set in a foundation strong enough to build upon -- basics such as “keep your stance open,” “enunciate your words,” and “I don’t want to see your butt upstage your face.”
And, “Make it yes!” made it into my repertoire of directions during my tenure this year as director of a junior high drama group.
Improvisational theater is a specialized art form, so when young teens attempt it, to be honest, it’s rarely a product suitable for audience consumption. Usually we incorporate it into a class activity to tease out a sense of “scene potentiality” -- that is, an awareness of where a scene could go -- or to prepare the students for those inevitable glitches in a real stage production, when they’re going to have to find their way out of a sticky mess or an awkward scene.
The challenge of improv is obviously the lack of lines, so we give the students a scenario, such as an NFL player in the waiting area of a lady’s hair salon, or sometimes just a setting, such as a ghost town in the American West, circa 1880, or a park where old men are playing chess.. The pros can often start immediately with this little bit of a nudge, but budding thespians need a few minutes to brainstorm. It’s exciting in those rare occasions when the potential for the scene blossoms in the hands of those with a unique skill for quick-thinking creativity.
Usually though, I spend a lot of time reminding them that this is about yes, not no.
You see, it's essential in improv that you, as an actor, listen for clues from your partner as to which direction he or she thinks the scene should go, and that you give clues to your partner as well. But a successful improv routine needs more than good listening to evolve. You have to respond to the clues that have been given in such a way that feeds into and advances the developing story. That way, the two of you are relating information to the audience so that they feel that sense of satisfaction for how cleverly the conflict was resolved.
When it works, what you read at the beginning of this post is what you get. This is an example of yes. No looks like this:
#1: Um, sir? Is there something I can help you with?
#2: No, I’m just here looking around.
#1: Would you like to sign in for the services of one of our excellent stylists?
#2: No, that’s okay. I don’t need a haircut. As you can see, I’m bald.
No secures the situation. I’m less likely to look foolish or lost or incoherent. It’s safer, but it also forces the story to an end; there's no point in going forward.
No refuses to relinquish control, grasps at the spotlight until there’s nothing left of the scene and everybody stands there saying nothing and the students turn to the directors with a look that says, “I guess we’re done.”
No says I am the only one with the reliable ideas. No says I don’t know what I would do if I had to follow someone else. No guarantees that no one will follow me because I have proven that I won't have their backs on stage in a moment when no one really knows what’s about to happen.
Yes says I don’t need to be in control, that I can trust someone else to take the lead.
Yes says I trust your skill and talent to be funny or poignant or clever enough to keep this scene moving forward. Yes, I want to give you information to help you flesh out the next line or action. Yes, I want to accept the choice you made and work with it.
Yes opens it up to someone else’s interpretation. Yes says I will give you space to figure out a progression. Yes says I am okay if I end up in a supporting role. Yes says you have a good idea.
But doesn’t yes pose a risk?
Yes, that’s exactly the point. And here is where the lessons in contentment and servanthood come in.
Saying yes relinquishes the lead role. I say yes when I am pleased with someone else receiving the attention I am used to getting, excited to hear what the Lord has been doing in their lives, content that the supporting role brings joy and delight and is exactly where God wants me to be.
Saying yes lets the other person have their moment. I say yes when I back down from the urge to manage people’s lives, when I give people room to make decisions without commentary or disapproval from me. Because I don’t know everything.
Saying yes recognizes that sometimes being uncomfortable and unsure makes for the best story. I say yes when I give up prejudices or inconveniences for the sake of a friendship that takes me out of my comfort zone because God sees my ugly side and doesn’t want me to relax in one place for too long.
Saying yes puts the play first, the other players second, and me last, especially if my hogging the spotlight is spoiling the show. Hebrews exhorts me to lay aside every encumbrance in order to run with endurance the race set before me. I say yes when I acknowledge that He must increase while I must decrease.
Saying yes is dying to self. I say yes when the carefully charted (and idolized) plans for the perfect life crumble around me and I submit the unknown to a trustworthy God, knowing that His more perfect plan has been crafted for my good and His glory.
At the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to his friends as “our glory and our joy”. They are the glory, not him. He expresses deep desire to see them again, informing them that they would be his crown at the coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17-20). Jesus tells his disciples that whoever loves his life (“no, I won’t relinquish control of my life”) loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world (“yes, there is more to life than this world”) will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-26)
Yes is so much better than no.
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
© lauraenglandmiller, #thereyougothinkingagain, Laura E Miller
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