Yes, And

In the span of 60 seconds, my nervousness melted into pure amazement. We were about halfway through the agenda at our closing ceremony for UrbanDreamers last year, and the whole atmosphere of the room had gotten tenser as we started feeling more and more apprehensive. For months we had rehearsed skits, learned about acting and storytelling, and practiced the part that had us all anxious—improv.

Improvisational theater, for those who may not know, is unscripted or minimally scripted performance. (Think Whose Line Is It Anyway?) Improv in itself is pretty challenging, as there’s no way to rehearse or entirely prepare oneself in advance. But for this group of 12- and 13-year-olds I knew it would be even more difficult—especially because, leading up to the event, this was the part of the performance that they repeatedly asked to be taken out. (“Can we do improv, but like, without the improvising?”)

Being put on the spot is something most people naturally don’t like. We get defensive and afraid because what if we say something dumb, or something that reveals how flawed we really are? But that’s the beauty of improv. We’re all broken, and we need to be united in recognizing our brokenness. We need somebody to express it. We need somebody to take the risk.

Reina and Elisa are sisters and have been the most dedicated and consistent participants in Dreamers since the program started. They’re also pretty reserved a lot of the time, which is why I wasn’t sure how their improv segment would turn out.

But during that minute-long exercise, the entire room came alive.

As Reina and Elisa invented their silly commercial for an ordinary product suggested by the audience, they exceeded all of our expectations. I had never seen them so comfortable and confident in front of an audience before.

Three months later, the girls surprised us even more. The second week of February we held an interest meeting for youth interested in joining Dreamers. Reina and Elisa, faithful as ever, showed up along with five other 10- to 13-year-olds.

As part of the meeting we challenged the youth to an activity where they had to make up songs on the spot based on just one word. I expected them to deliberate in their teams and ask for more time to invent their songs. But once again I stood in shock when, within seconds of giving them the first word, Reina jumped up and began singing her spontaneous lyrics at the top of her lungs in front of the new participants, many of whom she didn’t know. Elisa, spurred on in part by the idea of competing with her sister perhaps, was the next to jump out of her seat and shout out a silly song.

It was gratifying to see how the skills Reina and Elisa had spent time developing in Dreamers last year hadn’t faded but had grown even stronger. We often get discouraged wondering if our daily effort really makes any difference, but what we don’t recognize is that, although we don’t see the fruit of our work immediately, there are roots growing in hidden places.

What most excited me about that moment of improvisation, though, was how quickly the girls’ example of courageous creativity inspired the other students to put forth all their effort and energy as well. Instead of waiting for someone to motivate or inspire them, the girls took action in an instant and inspired those around them. Instead of saying “no” to the risk, they put into practice the key to improv by saying “yes, and.” In the same way that God takes our brokenness and creates something beautiful out of our lives, they took the challenge that was given to them and made something out of it.

And in a world full of challenges, what more can we ask for?


Marissa Thornberry - UrbanDreamers/Communications Director