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Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up [Format Kindle]

Patricia Ryan Madson
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[ the first maxim ]:say yes

. . . yes I said yes I will Yes. —James Joyce, Ulysses

This is going to sound crazy. Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else's dream. Say "yes"; "right"; "sure"; "I will"; "okay"; "of course"; "YES!" Cultivate all the ways you can imagine to express affirmation. When the answer to all questions is yes, you enter a new world, a world of action, possibility, and adventure. Molly Bloom's famous line from Ulysses draws us into her ecstasy. Humans long to connect. Yes glues us together. Yes starts the juices rolling. Yes gets us into heaven and also into trouble. Trouble is not so bad when we are in it together, actually.

The world of yes may be the single most powerful secret of improvising. It allows players who have no history with one another to create a scene effortlessly, telepathically. Safety lies in knowing your partner will go along with whatever idea you present. Life is too short to argue over which movie to see. Seize the first idea and go with it. Don't confuse this with being a "yes-man," implying mindless pandering. Saying yes is an act of courage and optimism; it allows you to share control. It is a way to make your partner happy. Yes expands your world.

Gertrude, one of my adult students and a mother of three small children, reported a lively adventure based on her application of this maxim. "Friday, my eight-year-old, Samantha, burst into the kitchen with a gleam in her eyes. 'Mommy, Mommy, there's a monster in the closet!' she shrieked. Normally, I would have thought my best reply to be a reality check for her. I would have said something like: 'No, dear, there is no monster in the closet. It's just your imagination, sweetie.' Instead, considering the rule of yes, I turned from the dishes I was washing and said: 'There is? Wow, let's go see!' I accompanied her to the closet, where we had a dynamic encounter with the monster, capturing it and squealing with delight as we tickled it into disappearing. It was a magical shared adventure. I would never have thought of joining Samantha's fantasy before considering the rule of yes! Thanks, improv."

It is undoubtedly an exaggeration to suggest that we can say yes to everything that comes up, but we can all say yes to more than we normally do. Once you become aware that you can, you will see how often we use the technique of blocking in personal relationships simply out of habit. Turning this around can bring positive and unexpected results.

I can remember the day nearly forty years ago when I made a conscious decision to adopt the yes rule. I was attending a tai chi workshop, and a woman whom I hardly knew asked if I could give her a ride home. I normally shy away from encounters with strangers, much preferring silence over casual social exchange. My heart sinks if I find myself with a chatty airplane seat-mate who wants to talk for the entire flight. I couldn't find a good reason to say no, so I said yes. She climbed into my car, and I pulled the old Chevy onto the freeway. As we searched politely for areas of common interest, the conversation turned to our tai chi experience and our physical well-being. I learned that she, too, had some problems with lower back pain. We commiserated, and she offered the name of a wise and skillful acupuncturist who had helped her considerably. As we parted, she wrote down the name and phone number of the healer and handed it to me while thanking me for the ride. What struck me at that moment was my wrongheadedness. I had thought that I was doing her a favor in giving her a ride, when it seemed (and here we get into some metaphysical difficulty with language) reality (the universe? my guardian angel?) was actually offering me some help. The acupuncturist turned out to be a godsend. I would not have found him without the connection with the woman I drove home. "Always say yes if someone asks for help and you can give it," I vowed. I admit a selfish motive in adopting this rule at that time, but the maxim has become a great teacher. Who benefits as we say yes to life? Notice.

Saying yes (and following through with support) prevents you from committing a cardinal sin—blocking. Blocking comes in many forms; it is a way of trying to control the situation instead of accepting it. We block when we say no, when we have a better idea, when we change the subject, when we correct the speaker, when we fail to listen, or when we simply ignore the situation. The critic in us wakes up and runs the show. Saying no is the most common way we attempt to control the future. For many of us the habit is so ingrained that we don't notice we are doing it. We are not only experienced at blocking others, we commonly block ourselves. "I'm not good at brush painting, so why bother? Whatever made me think I could do art?" "I'll never be the cook that Mom was, so I might as well order take-out." Blocking is often cleverly disguised as the critical or academic perspective. Finding fault is its hallmark. A sophisticated critic may even appear to be agreeing by offering the "yes but" response. Try substituting "yes and" for "yes but"—this will get the ball rolling.

The spirit of improvising is embodied in the notion of "yes and." Agreement begins the process; what comes next is to add something or develop the offer in a positive direction. Avoiding this next step is a form of blocking. I once taught a student who was scared to add anything to a scene unless he was instructed to do so. I think he was afraid of making a mistake. If Martha walked over to him on stage and proffered an imaginary ice-cream cone, Sheldon would accept the cone and just stand there, holding it. He appeared positive, seemed to be saying yes to the offer. But nothing else happened. Sheldon just stood there, blankly, until Martha advanced the scene by saying: "The elephants are coming right after these clowns." Sheldon's unwillingness to add something to the story became a kind of aggression. Players learn that sharing the control of the story is the only way to really have a good time. The rule of "yes and" can be used in relationships. Build upon someone else's dream. And when you are meeting new people, it is helpful to volunteer information about yourself, your interests, hobbies, dreams. This can open a door to friendship.

try this:

Support someone else's dreams. Pick a person (your spouse, child, boss), and, for a week, agree with all of her ideas. Find something right about everything he says or does. Look for every opportunity to offer support. Consider her convenience and time preferences ahead of your own. Give him the spotlight. Notice the results.

As we practice this affirmative response to life, positive things can happen. Kathleen Norris, in Amazing Grace, points out the connection between the impulse to say yes and our capacity for faith. "An alert human infant, at about one month of age, begins to build a vocabulary, making sense of the chaos of sound that bombards the senses. . . . Eventually the rudiments of words come; often 'Mama,' 'Dada,' 'Me,' and the all-purpose 'No!' An unqualified 'Yes' is a harder sell, to both children and adults. To say 'yes' is to make a leap of faith, to risk oneself in a new and often scary relationship. Not being quite sure of what we are doing or where it will lead us, we try on assent, we commit ourselves to affirmation. With luck, we find our efforts are rewarded. The vocabulary of faith begins."

I can't remember a time in history when the need for optimism and affirmation has been greater. In an article that examined how prevailing film sensibilities portrayed the question of individuality on screen in the last century, San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle made this shocking claim:
"American movies [2004] are more cynical and despairing than before. Their implicit message: people are garbage and the world is terrifying."Negative images surround us. Unimaginable horrors are now part of our collective unconscious.

With the rule of yes, we call upon our capacity to envision, to create new and positive images. This yes invites us to find out what is right about the situation, what is good about the offer, what is worthy in the proposal. Exercising the yes muscle builds optimism. However, we sensibly understand that the practice of affirmation is not a guarantee of outcomes. Saying yes to life will not banish problems or promise eternal success. A positive perspective is a constructive one, however, and it is easier on those around us.

try this:

For one day say yes to everything that's offered. Set your own preferences aside. Notice the results. See how often it may not be convenient or easy to do this.

Obviously, use common sense in executing this rule. If you are a diabetic and are offered a big piece of pie, you'll need to find a way to protect your health. Perhaps you can say boldly, "Yes, I'd love to have this pie to take home to my son who adores cherries."

Inventing Proverbs

There is wisdom in all of us. A beloved game that I learned from Rebecca Stockley, a professional improviser and educator, involves inventing a new proverb by speaking it one word at a time. This is done by a group of players who add the next most logical word to what has gone before. Do this quickly without "thinking" of a good idea. When it is clear that the proverb is finished (and this seems to happen by a natural consensus), all the players put on a "knowing, wise look," tap their fingers together in a prayerlike mudra, and say, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes . . . ," affirming the wisdom of whatever sage or nonsen...

Revue de presse

“A marvelous guide to freedom and delight. Improv has become a wisdom tradition of its own and Patricia shows how its lessons can bring out the best in us.” —John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros

“Patricia Ryan Madson is one of Stanford’s truly inspired teachers; she has changed the lives of thousands of students over the past twenty-eight years. In her smiling book, Improv Wisdom, she reminds us that being alive is like riding a bicycle—we always feel a little off-balance and insecure, but ‘in the act of balancing we come alive.’ She makes you want to get up and do something—try it out, make mistakes, laugh, play, and try it again.” —Charles Junkerman, Associate Provost and Dean of Continuing Studies, Stanford University

“Reading even just a few pages of Patricia Madson’s book might change your life forever. That’s what has happened to me. These pages are chock-full of wisdom, clarity, and helpful techniques on enhancing spontaneity in everyday life. Read this book—you will be glad and so will everyone else in your life.” —Nina Wise, author of A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life

“I have witnessed Patricia Madson’s magic touch in both her classes and her performances. Her students often describe her as a ‘goddess,’ but that may be an understatement. I rejoice that her wisdom is now available to new audiences.” —Philip G. Zimbardo, author of Psychology and Life and Shyness

“The premise of Patricia Madson’s book is astonishing: to practice the basic rules of improvisational theater is to walk a path toward a spiritually satisfying life. Her underlying claim is simple and sound: if you are willing to be completely present, making full use of whatever happens, you will find goodness in any situation. This is a lucid, wise, and free-spirited book.” —Norman Fischer, founder and teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation

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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A MUST-HAVE BOOK 28 juin 2010
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Patricia is great.
Here's a book you have absolutely to buy : simple, smashing, full of good sense,
This is a must-have book, a book you gotta keep next to your bed, to read it and read it again.
It's an invitation to be natural, spontaneous, to let ourselves go cool, to stop being constantly worried about how to prepare things rather then starting things.
This is a book to keep preciously, and you have to pay a lot of attention if you lend it to a friend, you might not see it again.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  108 commentaires
53 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Life 101 19 mars 2006
Par Rebecca Ryan - Publié sur Amazon.com
This book was recommended to me by a friend who's an improv genius, but I was taken with how broad the Improv Wisdom maxims are to everyone's life.

Ms. Madson organizes the book into 13 maxims, each given its own chapter. Samples include: #1: say yes; #2: don't prepare; #3: show up. Sounds simple, right? Although Ms. Madson writes in a tight, easy-to-abosrb style, she also looks you dead in the eye. For example, for people (like me) who just can't remember people's names, she calls it laziness. If you can't remember someone's name, she says you're breaking maxim #3. She doesn't stop there - she gives real improv exercises to build strengths in each maxim. (I tried her approach at the dog park yesterday when I met some new dogs - and their parents - and it worked!)

Improv Wisdom is my favorite new book for how to lead a creative, full life. (Move over, Stephen Covey!) I'm buying copies for everyone I care about and strongly recommend it to anyone who needs a refresher course for how to show up to their own life.
50 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Book to Read, Re-Read and Give to Others 31 juillet 2005
Par Jane Helm - Publié sur Amazon.com
I've had Patricia Ryan Madson's Improv Wisdom for a few months now. I keep re-reading parts and also buying additional copies for friends. It's enjoyable to read, but more enjoyable to use. My favorite chapter is entitled "Be Average," which sounds terrible (probably VERY terrible to the Stanford students who first experienced Madson's ideas) but it's freed me to write and do other things that waiting for perfection would have blocked. Moreover, the stress-reduction that goes with the principle improves the odds of being much better than average. It's a little book. Take it with you on your next trip.
34 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Very Useful Book with Practical Advice You Can Use Immediately 24 février 2006
Par bronx book nerd - Publié sur Amazon.com
In a world where management gurus and self-help coaches profess the necessity of intricate planning, Ms. Madson's book presents a refreshing counterpoint. As someone once said - Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. Approaching life from an improv angle, making it up, with others, as you go along, is a liberating notion. Being open to the present moment and what it brings, accepting reality and not feeling constant disappointment at the way things should be, can only result in a calmer, and perhaps paradoxically, more productive life. I highly recomend this book for anyone who feels deficient for not owning a planner the size of the Oxford dictionary, or like me, who has bought at least four planners over the last decade, and have made enough entries to fill at most one letter-size sheet.
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 O.K., This Book is Great! 29 juillet 2005
Par Diane Rachel - Publié sur Amazon.com
I found practical solutions to life-long problems, fun and inspirational ways to improve my talents and a twist of perspective on life that truly uses life's mistakes and challenges as fuel for even greater adventures. Forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, gratitude, action, attention, focus, productivity and let's not forget joy; all in a little book that's a seemingly easy read but packs a huge punch!
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Just Say Yes 5 juin 2005
Par Jessica - Publié sur Amazon.com
I am one of Patricia's students at Stanford, and I am not embarrassed to say that her class really did change my life. I never thought that a drama teacher would be able to have such a huge impact on me.

All of Patricia's best anecdotes, advice and words of wisdom are in this book. Read it if you're a drama student (it's amazing how much your acting will improve if you incorporate improv into your craft), but definitely read it if you're not. This book isn't so much about improv as it is how to lead your life. Trust me, if you follow Patricia's advise, your life will improve for the better. Really.
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