One of my mother’s day presents was Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants, which so far is a funny read.
After studying acting in college, she got into the world of improv. She describes the method thusly:
Improvisation as a way of working made sense to me. I love the idea of two actors on stage with nothing – no costumes, no sets, no dialogue – who make up something together that is then completely real to everyone in the room. The rules of improvisation appealed to me not only as a way of creating comedy, but as a worldview. Studying improv literally changed my life. (p. 82)
In terms of real life, I find this a wonderful approach. I have always had a distinct sense of how we are making everything up as we go along. I’ve always felt the weight of all possibilities hanging behind the curtain of “the way things have always been.” I have seen through tradition, ritual and custom, which it seems most people think is a given, concrete way of the world, and I’ve acknowledged that everything we do is a choice, moment after moment, and that we could at any second choose to jump outside the box and wing it.
I think this parallel between improv and worldview speaks not only to personal choice and creativity but also agency, which I believe is a vital component of living a truly meaningful life. Not to make a passive choice when forced to or allow a bit of creativity to seep into a predetermined scenario, but to actually step in and shape the course of things.
She calls this agency “YES, AND.” In other words, in order for improv to work, you have to accept what has already been put forth, but then you have to add something of your own. She says,
To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile. (p. 83)
Imagine if we took this to heart! Imagine if every actor on the human stage could genuinely accept what another actor had put forth and then jump in with material (action, dialogue, gestures) which would reflect what they wanted, needed or felt inspired to express.
Imagine if we saw every line at the bank as a chance for a fascinating exchange with a stranger. Imagine if we saw problems in our close personal relationships as a challenge to write a new story, to become a new character, to break out of the plot we felt like we’ve both been handed and write our own script from the words in our hearts.
Imagine if we began with the worldview that reality is a malleable substance which we infuse, consciously or not, with meaning.
Imagine if we all became improv artists on our own life’s stage.