Yes, and go to bed!

How improv classes can (probably) make you a better parent.

About a month and a half ago, I performed improvisational comedy for the first time at the Coalition Theater’s BATTLEDECKS. I was given six random slides and had to come up with a presentation on the spot. While I was pleased with my performance, I immediately wanted to figure out how to do it better. I signed up for Improv 101.

The class has met two times so far, and already I see tips for interacting with my children. First, the games. In our first class, we played a bunch of simple games to learn each other’s names and build confidence with each other. I ended up bringing the games home, and my daughters have gotten a kick out of them.

In “Awesome”, you go around in a circle and say something that happened to you. No matter what is said, everyone enthusiastically screams “AWESOME!”

“I ate a sandwich.”
“I painted a picture.”
“I stubbed my toe.”

We’ve also told stories in a circle, with each of us taking a sentence then passing it on to the next person. Last night, Steve the Robot discovered that his girlfriend Toasterina the Toast had a battery, and he could show her the world outside. The seven-year-old especially seems to enjoy creative time where there is no wrong answer.

Last week, we spent our class learning the foundation of improv, “Yes, and…” As I am now an improv expert after two classes, “Yes, and…” is the idea that you focus and build on what your comrades do. You don’t negate it or change it to make things “crazy”. You help each other out. You don’t kill your scene partner’s dog.

Playing with my girls is all about yes anding. Lying on the rug, playing the latest installment in our My Little Pony/Star Wars crossover fan fiction, you play off each other. “Yes, and Twilight Sparkle needs to go rescue Ahsoka Tano because the dinosaur is mad.” And while you may selfishly suggest narratives that don’t involve you having to get up, you play along, together. 1

But the girls are definitely not yes-anding when it comes to the stuff that has to get done. “Let’s go brush your teeth” isn’t met with “Yes, and then I’ll floss!”. It’s met with silence, no eye-contact, and the continued reading of library books. That makes me mad, I repeat myself more forcefully, and now we’re in a conflict that doesn’t make either of us feel good and doesn’t result in teeth being brushed.

I have to anticipate the no. I need to figure out ways to start the teeth brushing process that my girls can more easily say “Yes, and…” to. “I’m going to go eat your toothbrushes” creates the sense of urgency that I better go rescue my toothbrush before Daddy eats it.

But, sometimes you’re tired. What worked yesterday, might not work today. And that’s where I hope improv training will help me. Like any habit or sport, you practice so you can do it without consciously thinking about it. A dancer’s body has practiced enough that it knows what to do through muscle memory. A chess player sees patterns instinctively after hours and hours of practice. I want to “Yes, and…” without thinking about it.

I’m not trying to be deceitful or trick my kids into doing something they don’t want to do; I just hate conflict. If I can figure out a way to get the things that need to get done–done with less yelling–I’m going to do it. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll learn in Improv 101: Class 3.2

Update: Several people have asked me who my Improv 101 instructor is. His name is Jim Zarling, and he’s the best improv teacher ever.

Photo by: rvacomedy

  1. Sometimes, the girls will “no, but” at my suggestions, but they haven’t taken Improv 101. 
  2. I just looked at the syllabus. Week 3 is “How to yell at your kids louder.” Oh well. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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