The Power of Yes And... | Chris Martin | TEDxYouth@FranklinSchoolOfInnovation | Summary and Q&A

September 22, 2023
TEDx Talks
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The Power of Yes And... | Chris Martin | TEDxYouth@FranklinSchoolOfInnovation

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This video explores the foundational principle of improv, "yes and," and its application beyond comedy scenes on stage. It highlights the origins of improv by Viola Spolin and how she used it to help build trust and collaboration in immigrant families. The video also discusses the importance of play for healthy child development and learning, drawing parallels between play and improvisation. It shares personal experiences of the speaker, demonstrating how the power of "yes and" has positively impacted their life. Ultimately, the video emphasizes the wide-ranging benefits of embracing the principles of improv in various aspects of life.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the foundational principle of improv?

The foundational principle of improv is "yes and." It involves taking an idea or suggestion and agreeing with it, then building upon it to create a scene or situation. This principle is not limited to theater and can be applied to various contexts outside of the stage.

Q: Who is Viola Spolin and how did she contribute to the development of improv?

Viola Spolin is widely regarded as the woman who single-handedly invented Improv. She initially used theater training games to incorporate play with immigrant families at Whole House, where she worked as a trauma supervisor and social worker. She understood the value of play in building trust and collaboration, and her games formed the basis of modern improv techniques.

Q: How did Viola Spolin's work disrupt the traditional approach to theater?

Viola Spolin's work in improv was a major disruption in the theater industry. It introduced new ways of training actors, building ensembles, and writing scripts. Her approach was flexible and adaptable, designed to cater to a broader audience and not just the elite theater-going crowd. She prioritized addressing pressing and current issues through her work.

Q: What do studies say about the importance of play for child development?

The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the need and importance of play for promoting healthy child development, especially for children living in poverty. The Lego Foundation differentiates between shallow learning (memorizing facts) and deep learning (engaging in concepts and real-life contexts). They emphasize that play, which allows children to experience agency and be supported rather than directed, is crucial for effective learning.

Q: What role did Viola Spolin's son, Paul Sills, play in the development of improv?

Viola Spolin's son, Paul Sills, played a significant role in the development of improv. Growing up during the Great Depression, he closely observed the games that Viola played with her friends at home. Paul, along with David Shepard, later founded the Playwrights Theater Club and established the Compass Theater, which became the first true improvisational theater in the U.S. Viola was brought in to connect the players to her games and techniques.

Q: Which theater company is still thriving today and is home to many famous comedians and actors?

Second City, originally established as the Compass Theater, is still thriving today and is home to some of the best comedians and actors of all time. Past and present alumni include names like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner, Steve Carell, and Dan Aykroyd.

Q: How has the power of "yes and" influenced the speaker's own life?

The speaker shares a personal story about being adopted and how their mother embraced a "yes and" attitude towards raising them. Their mother unconditionally accepted them and supported them through various challenges, including fitting in and financial constraints. This experience instilled a "yes and" mindset in the speaker and influenced their teaching career, their ability to adapt to disruptions, and their overall outlook on life.

Q: How does the speaker incorporate "yes and" in their teaching career?

As a theater teacher, the speaker uses "yes and" in their improv classes to build trust, collaboration, and community among their students. They introduce a variety of games, such as Freeze, to encourage creativity and improvisation on stage. The speaker also applies the "yes and" principle when teaching and meeting students' individual needs, particularly in moments of disruption or when students veer off from instructions. They share examples of using long-form improv to teach playwriting and adapting to unexpected situations during performances.

Q: How can the principles of improv be applied outside of the theater?

The principles of improv, particularly "yes and," can be applied in various aspects of life beyond the theater. The video suggests that these principles can make us better teachers, parents, co-workers, and community builders. Embracing a "yes and" mindset helps develop flexibility, adaptability, and a can-do attitude. It encourages us to accept any given situation and find ways to move forward, even in challenging circumstances. "Yes and" fosters collaboration, creativity, and resilience in everyday life.


The power of "yes and" extends beyond comedic scenes on stage. Embracing a "yes and" mindset can build trust, foster collaboration, and support healthy child development. The principles of improv teach flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to seize opportunities. Applying "yes and" in various aspects of life cultivates a can-do attitude, enhances relationships, and helps navigate unexpected disruptions. "Yes and" is a fundamental resource for learning, problem-solving, and building strong communities.

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