I coach improvisers in Asia and the rest of the world. With Asian improvisers, notably, one question that comes up repeatedly was:
“That move I just made — was that blocking?”
If you HAD to ask, it’s probably not blocking.
(1) If it were blocking, you already know it is.
(2) If you ask this question, you care. Regular blockers don’t give a shit.
So you’re good 😁
Whose Block Is It, Anyway?
Just to recap, THIS is blocking:
“Give me your pen”
“This is a fish.”
If I do this, I will KNOW it’s a block after saying it (and regret it).
Meanwhile, this is not blocking:
“Give me your pen”
This one is declining the action. You accept the idea and then say No.
Blocking is not the opposite of Yes.
I get confused too. But I think it’s a bit of semantics.
On first day of improv we get YES-AND = Good, BLOCKING = Bad. Because of this, one mentally summarize Yes-And and Blocking as opposites of each other, and granted they are.. similar..ish? But I don’t think this is true. One should make a distinction between Blocking and the other one (saying No). Blocking is universally bad. Saying No stalls action — usually not the best choice — but can be, at times, good/necessary.
“Yes-And” is super catchy though, and made its way onto the world.
Of Ancient Improv Languages
When I first learned improv 16 years ago, I was trained in the ancient language that Yes-And = NOT Block. That was the language of the day. If someone had commanded my character to harm myself and I didn’t do it, that’s a Block. If I don’t want to do it, then improv isn’t for me.
But I feel the language of improv has evolved. The problems with literal Yes-And were identified. The meaning of Yes-And were tinkered. And Yes-And being a steadfast rule is sort of relaxed. I’m talking about Western improv here.
Meanwhile I feel, in Asia where improv had come early, the traditional meaning of Yes-And and Blocking perseveres.
In a way, this is like language diasporas preserving their more ancient forms. Like Canadian French sounds like old French than today’s French French, or Indonesian Dutch/South Africa Afrikaans has that tinge of old Dutch. Whereas Yes-And in the West now comes with an asterisk and a healthy dose of caution, the older traditional form adheres to improv in Asia.
And that’s why many improv students in Asia are very, very concerned about not saying yes and blocking. It feels like an unbreakable rule because when Yes-And was imported, it sort of is.. unbreakable?
This is not about demeaning improv in Asia, no. This is not saying “Asia, you have to keep up with the times.” No. This is actually the opposite.
Rather, this is example why improv has to be able to evolve on their own. Because if we only import what the West now decides is good, we will always be two steps behind. Asia can sometimes fall at the mercy of “now this is the correct way” and then later “now this is the correct way” (which might revert to the original way, frustratingly). And adopted rules are the rules which are the hardest to break — because they are not ours to break.
That’s why we, Asia, need to own improv ourselves. Then we can break shit.