Everyone loves to hate acronyms. After many decades of teaching I have moved from “No Wimping, No Blocking” to an new acronym LACE.
Many learners can readily associate with “yes”, “yes, and”, “rules of improv”, “No blocking” etc. Variations of these pithy aphorisms are the historic building blocks of improv comedy. These concepts are essential and not just pithy aphorisms to be thrown away for some new acronym. However I have run into limitations to these “rules” so many times over the decades that Learn Improv has developed and even more deconstructed approach.
Goals Versus Rules
Most important is that there are no rules, there are goals. If for some reason an improviser accidentally blocks, or wimps out they do not need to be chided that some rule was broken. Since experienced improvisers break these improv rules all the time what is the point of having such a rule?
Since we all need a frame work to learn from we have replaced the term improv rules with:
It allows for a much more supportive and caring learning environment if feedback is given along the lines of a future goal to shoot for as opposed to failure of a broken rule.
LACE is an acronym that includes the improv goals of no blocking, no wimping, saying yes, and yes and. Listen. Accept. Commit. Expand.
There will be no acceptance if you are not listening to what your scene partner is giving you. Listening is not just about hearing what is being said. While this is the most important and common form of listening needed improvisers must be able to listen to words, emotions, physicality and context. If you are hearing the words “I love you” and not the subtext of “I don’t really love you” you are missing a higher level offer. If you do not see the environment that your scene partner has created you will walk through it. Destroying your scene partners work and much of the magic for audience.
- Your ears.
- Your eyes.
- Your heart.
- Your brain.
In a very reductionist sense accepting, saying YES, is the most repeated truism of improv comedy. However from a teaching stand point yes is fraught with challenges. Yes does not actually mean yes all the time. Yes is a simplification of acceptance. We use yes and exercises all the time. They are essential, however when a scene partner gives an offer you need not say yes, but you must accept the offer as real.
The most potent example occurs in most beginner classes. One scene partner says “let’s jump off this bridge to certain death.” Should the other scene partner’s character jump off the bridge to certain death. No. Yes and is often interpreted incorrectly that jumping is the only correct answer. What you are saying yes to is the offer of jumping off the bridge. Any character can say hell no I am not jumping off a bridge. What you are saying yes to is that the offer is real. Using the term accept the offer avoids the inevitable confusion of yes meaning compliance.
Acceptance does not mean approval.
So if a character asks another character to carry out a deplorable act the act can be accepted as real but met with a resounding “fuck off.”
The opposite of acceptance is denial. This is the dreaded block that we hear about. When a character does not accept and offer, which is different from not approving an offer, the story of the scene comes to a halt. For example, if a character suggests jumping off a bridge to certain death and her scene partner says “that is not a bridge it is my bathtub” the story of the scene stops. This is the classic denial, block, or no that we are trying to avoid. Where as responding “that would kill us, I would only jump with a bungee cord.”
So many of us are denied our dreams and ideas. We spend a lot time second guessing and weighing cost and benefit with so much of what we do in the mundane world. When improvising on stage we can enjoy commitment to our idea. Our first idea.
Commit to your response to the offer. Trust yourself. This is the modernized version of no wimping. No wimping leads beginning improvisers to feel that the opposite being a wimp. It is understood that this is not the goal of the term no wimping. It is another way to say commit, but like “yes and” no wimping informs the decisions of nascent learners. Commit allows you to commit to being wimpy if that is your response to an offer. Commit does not mean huge, or zany, it means believe in your idea. Your idea is worth committing to. Your first idea is worth committing. That idea can be quiet, gentle, loud, but it is the best idea in the world and you are behind it.
Wimping refers to lacking complete commitment to the idea that is in your head.
This is the “and” part of “yes and.” Add something. Listen to your scene partner so you can hear the offer. Accept the offer. Commit to your idea. Expand on that offer. How is expand different from and? We have chosen the word expand to instill the benefits of focusing your new offer on the last offer. While you will commit to the first offer in your head the an offer that expands on the offer you were given will be more likely to add to the story.
For example, if your scene partner offers you an apple it would be a denial to say that it is cup. This lack of acceptance does not assist in advancing the story. If you accept the offer of an apple and add that your space alien Klaatu loves green apples you have fulfilled the goal of listening, accepting and committing, but your have not expanded on the offer. The space alien Klaatu creates a whole new story and does not meet the goal of expanding. The simplest response would be the strongest. For example, this is the biggest apple I have seen all week.