I teach the Honors Senior Seminar each spring, which is always a highlight of my year, and one of the class sessions introduces students to the history and practice of improvisation.
I invite members of our theater faculty and local improv performers to come to class to help us understand why improv is so important to places like Chicago (think Second City) and Minneapolis (think Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop). Then the fun begins.
The improv artists invite us to the front of the classroom where we are taught some basic improv skills. Embarrassment aside, these sessions are full of life lessons. My favorite exercise goes like this: one student makes a statement related to an assigned topic. Perhaps the topic is the weather, and the student proclaims, “Wow, is it hot.” The next student then answers, “Yes, and … I’m sweating like a faucet.” The next student continues, “Yes, and … my faucets often leak.”
You get the point. No one is allowed to say “No” or even “Yes, but … ”—it’s always “Yes, and … .” That’s how improv works, and I believe that’s how Augsburg works when we are at our best.
We live in a “No” and “Yes, but … ” world—a world of scarcity that keeps us from risking ourselves in relation to others. Improv teaches us the way of abundance, a way that finds we are better together. “Yes, and … ” builds upon the gifts of others to help us live healthier, more just and compassionate lives together.
The anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson offers this helpful word: “Improvisation and new learning are not private processes; they are shared with others at every age. We are called to join in a dance whose steps must be learned along the way, so it is important to attend and respond.”
This issue of Augsburg Now is full of stories of “Yes, and … ”—including highlights of our planning for next year’s sesquicentennial celebration, Augsburg’s 150th anniversary. What a grand celebration it will be, as we recall the abundance of our founding in 1869, the decades of educating students for lives of meaning and purpose, and the promise of Augsburg’s mission in the years ahead.
Yes, and … it will be good!
Paul C. Pribbenow, President