Strange Currency: Improv’s “Yes, And” as Tool for Collaboration

Collaboration is the cornerstone of any successful library program. The collaborative spirit of improv can help librarians forge connections with their audiences and enlist partners in creative work.

Improv, short for improvisational theatre, is a technique often associated with comedy. Amy Poehler, comedian and co-founder of Smart Girls, lauds the “alchemy” of improv; it requires teamwork, active listening, and taking risks. This power is her “currency.”

Poehler also emphasizes the imperative to see an improvisation all the way through, to always have your partner’s back, and not to “bail” mid-scene.

What does it take to see a scene through? Improv is predicated on the power of Yes, And. The Improv Encyclopedia defines this term as a “common method of advancing scenes: accept everything said and/or done and do something with it.”

Essentially, an actor does Yes, And when she takes a scene partner’s premise and runs with it, no matter how bizarre. A responsive partner will search for a kernel to latch onto, do something with it, and push the idea further.

The Engaging Educator, a company that provides improv-based professional development, describes the spirit of Yes, And as, “the idea of elevation – we’re stronger when we surround ourselves by people that lift us up, and people we lift up.”

Librarians are voracious media omnivores. Through sensitivity to their audience’s interests, librarians can exercise their expertise and know when they’ve found the perfect something to elevate their scene partners’ work.

Librarians are excited by ideas and to work with people. This ethos is reflected in Madison Public Library’s Bubbler, a space that enacts the ideal of a library space that prioritizes people over stuff.

Onstage, Yes, And could lead to the moon. On popsicle rockets. But what might this look like in a library space?

Currently, I am collaborating at my school with the Director of Experiential Learning and Humanities teachers to implement new, interdisciplinary curricula. Together, we search for resources, partnerships, and opportunities for our students to pursue rigorous research and field study.

Whenever I read the paper, listen to the radio, see an art exhibit, or enjoy conversation, I keep my scene-partners in mind. Who knows what I might find to elevate the scene?

I’m sure you do Yes, And all of the time. Share your best “Yes Ands” in the comments below.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

2 replies

  1. Awesome analogy! I definitely embrace my role as Connector and Innovator, however collaborative partners need tp know that you’re in it for the long run…”not to bail mid-scene”, by supporting implementation!

  2. That’s right Deb, the “scene” extends well beyond the planning stages. Implementation can be the trickiest part, too. Here is where teachers may encounter unforeseen challenges or limitations. I have often found that the some of the best “yes and” moments come during revisions or the second pass at running a class when we have a chance to respond to teacher and student feedback.

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