Theater and Programming

16 Feb 2007

Awhile back I was bored of the suburbs and being a teacher (high school physics for 7 years – no foolin’) so I decided to become an actor. I didn’t quit my job, but I did use my summer vacation to take 3 acting classes at once. It was a crazy good time and I completely recommend it to anyone looking for a change of pace and/or the opportunity to meet lots of pretty girls. Anyway, one of my classes was Improvisation which should really be called game playing for adults. Remember cops and robbers? Well yeah, it was like that. Teacher would get some volunteers and come up with some wacky situation and the 2 or more actors would just play out the scene. You’re a salesman on his way to a big sales call who sits next to a weird guy on the bus. And you, you’re a crazy person who thinks this bus is a submarine. Go.

Somewhat scary, but lots of fun. But like cops and robbers the game could stall if people didn’t play fair. “I shot you. No you didn’t” and so on. The number one rule for all improv is that you always say yes. If the butcher sez that its 5pm and closing time, you aren’t allowed to say “No, its 3 o’clock.” Everything just stops, the trust is lost, and the bit just becomes a boring argument. There’s something magic about saying yes. Which is why there’s a rule in XP that when someone asks for help, you always have to say yes. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you don’t know how to help. It just hurts the team too much when everyone is free to say no.

Now, of course, this rule is flexible. There are plenty of cases you can think up where it would be perfectly reasonable to say “No.” But it’s a good guideline. I’ve seen teams that are great and teams that suck and the ones where you can always get someone to help you fall into the first camp. Saying yes maybe scary (like improve) because you might look like a fool (also like improve) if you don’t know what you’re doing. But when everyone starts doing it the fear disappears and the team really gels.