Improv 101 – Acceptance & YES Body

by Johanna Bundon, HIP Partner Artist

One of the guiding principles of improvisation is acceptance. This idea is also known as saying YES. In improv workshops, we try to emphasize acceptance towards ourselves, towards others, as well as acceptance of the current situation at hand. In other words, we say YES to all of the conditions of the moment.

Acceptance is a skill that can greatly benefit our relationships and communication with others.  It encourages an atmosphere free of judgment, and wakes up a sense of connection, and even empathy, among group members. Today, I will reflect a little bit on how acceptance is a tool that we try to activate in the HIP workshops. I’ll share with you some of the ways we practice saying YES.

We start every workshop in a circle. As I’m sure many of us have experienced, a circle is a nice orientation to make sure everyone is included. As a general rule, if you are in the room, you are in the circle. We try to activate this idea whenever possible. Being in a circle with others has a simple and wonderful effect of blurring distinctions of power. Whatever our roles were before we entered the workshop, we try, as best we can, to let them fade away and just to encounter each other as fellow improvisers.

The next step is to prepare our bodies to work with and accept others. Preparing our bodies is a physical, grounded, and very practical way we can prepare ourselves for the task of improvisation. We refer to this process preparing our bodies as finding our “YES body”. The stance that we are looking for in our bodies is one that is relaxed and alert, and therefore able to accept potential communication and offers from others. 

Some ways we prepare our bodies are by uncrossing our arms and letting them hang at our sides, softening the backs of the knees, and trying to feel the ground underneath us. These are just guidelines that may shift according to the array of diverse bodies in the room.

 For many of us, just uncrossing our arms is a huge shift towards better communication. Whether we know it our not, our posture, (let’s say the posture of having our arms crossed in front of us), arrests our energy. It pre-assumes resistance, or even judgment. In workshops, we lovingly refer to this posture as “NO body”. Get out of your “NO body” and find a way to say YES!

 Once we have our “YES body” on, we use our eyes to make eye contact with everyone in the circle. Just like a good toast, a good circle allows you to make eye contact with everyone. This eye contact is our telepathic way of saying: I see you, and I include you. We continue to encourage eye contact throughout the workshop, as a tool to foster focus and clarity of intention. It’s also just a nice way to connect with others, none of that clumsy language required!

When people talk or take a turn at an exercise, we look at them. Again, to let them know, I see you, and I include you. We make a point of turning our hearts towards the person in focus, or even work with the image of having an imaginary elastic band connecting your heart to each and every person in the room. This is a playful image that lets us play with the feeling of being linked to others.

When we pursue this elastic band image as a group, it ignites a sense of connection in the group. When we really commit to this task, it has two wonderful byproducts:

1. The first is that the person in focus has an experience of how their actions have resonance within the group. This exercise gives a sense that every little behavior, no matter how small, is acknowledged and has an effect within the group. Every group member’s contributions matter.

 2. The second is that it allows us to, for a brief moment, experience the essence of someone else’s actions. We feel the rhythm with which someone shifts their weight, how the impulse to move expresses itself in their body, and even the tone and vibration of their voice. We like to refer to this as empathetic bodies. Starting to understand and share the feelings of another.

These are just some of the tools we use in the HIP workshops to invite a quality of acceptance. Our hope is that they translate into the real world too J Stay tuned for more on the Heritage Improv Project in the coming weeks!