READING Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat* from "Bossy Pants"
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.
Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.
As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?
The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.
To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.
In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”
MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.
Instead of saying “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” Okay, “Here we are in Spain, Dracula” may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:
THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.
*Improv will not reduce belly fat
preached on the Sterling Town Common
Sunday, August 5, 2018
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
There are plenty of people both sympathetic and unsympathetic to our cause who will tell you that Christianity consists of just a big list of “no-no’s” for the sake of moral purity. Just say “no” to sex outside of marriage and “no” to drinking and working on the sabbath and “no” to certain kinds of people and ideas and “no” to the “wrong” ways of worship.
But true faith begins with a big, bold “yes.” Yes, to the world as it is. Yes, to the present moment. Yes, to God.
So often, the church itself is a place of “no.” “No” to new ways of doing things. “No” to dreams that can’t fit in our budget. “No” to ideas that stretch beyond our comfort zone. It takes a great deal of faith in God to say, “yes.”
The disciples, bless their hearts, are the biggest nay-sayers of all. In our text from John, Jesus takes them up the mountain, a reference to Moses. Passover was nearing, word had spread about his ministry, and a large crowd of 5,000 was following him. The disciples had one barley loaf and two fish for the passover meal. They started to panic, much like the Israelites did in the wilderness before Moses provided them with manna from heaven.
“No, we can’t possibly feed these people. No, we will never have enough. No, we can’t do that. No no no no no.”
The disciples had so little faith!
Jesus tests them by asking a rhetorical question: “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”
The disciples fail the test. They answer Jesus’ query with a budget concern. “Not even six months salary will buy us enough,” they say. “We can’t. No."
But Jesus says “Yes. Yes, we can feed everyone. Yes we can.”
When the disciples say “there is not enough money,”
Jesus says, “there will always be enough.”
When the disciples say, “we can’t possibly feed all these people,”
Jesus says, “Oh yeah? Hold my beer.” (That’s the Robin revised standard version of what Jesus says. The New Revised Standard Version recounts Jesus’ words as, “Make them sit down.”)
When the disciples say, “There will never be enough food,”
Jesus says, “we will have so much that we will have to save all the left-overs so that nothing is lost.”
Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
If we say that we believe in this God who creates this kind of abundance from scarcity, we need to have an improvisational faith.
In an improvisational faith, we say “Yes.”
The first rule of improvisation is always agree. Start with a yes, and see where that takes us. Our “no”, after all, is often just an expression of our fear. An improvisational faith says the only way out of what causes us fear is “through.”
Our “yes” is a faith over fear response.
Faith in Jesus means that all are one in the body of Christ. Faith in Jesus means that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” Faith in Jesus means that a straight person cannot say to a gay person “I have no need of you.” Faith in Jesus means that a liberal can’t say to the conservative, “I have no need of you.” Faith in Jesus means that a Christian can’t say to a Muslim or an atheist, “I have no need of you.”
An improvisational faith means that we find conversation partners we wouldn’t necessarily seek out on our own, and keep an open mind.
Rev. Otis Moss III says: “Improvisation and African polyrhythmic composition, layered with European scales, created this new sound in the emerging South. European instruments such as piano and bass were married to drum and saxophone. Jazz composition had a strict thematic structure, but every instrument had the right to solo. This was unheard of within the confines of, for instance, French chamber music, but now it promoted the democratic idea that each instrument was welcome to share in the composition and allowed to speak musically from the player’s own cultural context. Never during performance would the piano oppress the drum, or the saxophone tell the bass player that he or she was “three-fifths” of an instrument. They flourished together. European chamber music maintained a strict class hierarchy where only certain instruments were considered worthy of playing before aristocratic audiences. Jazz stated radically: All are welcome and every instrument has a gift to be played before the people.”
An improvisational faith teaches us that all of us have the right to solo. That each stranger is a piece of me I do not yet know. An improvisational faith teaches us a respect for what our conversation partners have created as a message we may need to hear.
Just imagine how the world might change if we started each encounter with a primal “yes!”
In an improvisational faith, we don’t just say “Yes,” we say “Yes, And.” We make statements. We become part of the solution.
St. Tina Fey says whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Make statements with your actions, and your voice. Be bold, especially when your opinion is unpopular. YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
Rev Otis Moss III says that “Any good jazz band lets everyone solo. Any church serious about Christ must allow each person the opportunity to express his or her gifts. Nothing is more beautiful than when individuals find their groove and create a new chord in the church-wide composition I call A Love Supreme. In the twenty-first century church, everyone has a part in the band, and all have worth in God’s eyes.”
In an improvisational faith, it’s go big or go home. This is no time for a timid or tepid faith. Each and every one of us must play a part in the love revolution. We all have worth in God’s eyes, and we all have a part in the band.
In an improvisational faith, there are no mistakes, only opportunities.
You didn’t plan that pregnancy, that marriage to break up, that job loss? There are no mistakes in an improvisational faith, only opportunities for changing direction. In an improvisational faith, we have sacred trust in God that there is forgiveness and redemption available for all; that new life grows out of death; that resurrection is the only truth. That all things will be made new.
An improvisational faith is trusting that every mistake we make can turn into a beautiful happy accident. Like a bad marriage that leads to beautiful children, or a car crash that leads to a new understanding of the precious fragility of life on this earth.
Beloved, you and I worship a God who loves wastefully and extravagantly; who says “yes” to us; a God who can make a way out of no way. Have confidence in that Love, and trust in the moment right in front of you.
Practice saying “yes” and see where it takes you.
Do you want to live in the moment? YES!
Do you want to know the people around you better? YES!
Do you want to see God in all things? YES!
Do you trust that you can continue to learn and grow in Love? YES!
Do you trust that with God’s help we can manifest heaven here on this earth? YES!
Do you want to love others more wholly and fully, the way God loves? YES!
Do you want to be loved like that? YES!
Do you want to change this world with that love? YES!
YES! YES! YES!
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.