Just Say Yes: Improvising Your Life with Patricia Ryan Madson

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In the world of improvisational theater, there's no script, and advance planning is of little use, because the actors never know quite what will happen once they step on stage. It sounds a little bit like life, doesn't it? In fact, our efforts to create and follow a reliable script for our futures might actually be one of the reasons things often don't work out the way we'd hoped. Patricia Madson draws on the principles of improvisational theater to approach life with a willingness to pay attention to whatever life presents, and to say yes to the unexpected. "Yes can be a really good answer more of the time than you might imagine. It can open up a possibility. It's easy to say no. No doesn't require us to act. Saying yes can get us into trouble, but it's just as likely to bring us great adventures." In fact, Ms. Madson finds that when we throw out many of the rules we thought we simply must live by, the things that too often stifle our spontaneity and creativity, we'll find our lives are more authentic, more effective, and a lot more fun. (hosted by Bec Kageyama)


Patricia Ryan Madson is Professor Emerita at Stanford University, where she served as head of the undergraduate acting program. In 1996 she founded the Creativity Initiative at Stanford, and in 1998 received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Innovation in Undergraduate Education. Ms. Madson now applies principles of improvisation to an Eastern approach to problem solving known as Constructive Living, and has been invited to teach at such prestigious institutions as Esalen Institute, the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, the Vega Institute, and the Meaningful Life Therapy Association of Kyoto, Japan.

Her writings include:

  • "Reality's Work," article published in the anthology Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood (Claude Whitmyer, ed., Parallex Press 1994)
  • Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up (Bell Tower/Random House 2005)

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How the principles of improvisation can enhance every area of your life
  • Why trying to do your best might be the worst thing you can do
  • How you can turn a mistake into something wonderful
  • Why being unprepared can be a good thing
  • How your family can operate as an improvisational ensemble
Host: Bec Kageyama      Interview Date: 9/16/2005      Program Number: 3108