Nathan’s “Yes, And” Attitude to Life and Teaching in Beijing


“The Mercenaries of Laughter” Brave New Workshop’s youth improv team, 2001-2003

Seventeen years ago I moved to Minneapolis from St. Petersburg, Florida (take that you snowbirds, my family flipped it on ya!). I was in a completely new world with no clue how I fit in. Luckily, my mother knew me well and signed me up for a youth improv class at some place called Brave New Workshop. It was the first step in an amazing journey of Yes Anding that has let me have this crazy adventure I call my life.

It was more than just a class. It was a way for a dozen, awkward high school kids to find out who the heck we were by learning to trust others and accepting the offers life gives us. It was the first time we were treated as adults in an educational setting. Our teacher Ahna Brandvik taught us how to perform at the peak of our intelligence. We learned how to support one another and discover just how powerful a word “Yes” is.  Over the three years we played together we became more than friends, we became a troupe, named the “Mercenaries of Laughter”. Brave New Workshop gave us a space to play and to build on all these improv and life lessons.

Without a doubt, improv has given me the foundation on which to make bold choices with my life. It gave me the courage to move away from home for college, the tools to jump into the world of Chicago theater for a decade, and the ability to embrace the opportunities that are given to me. Four years ago I Yes And’ed myself to Beijing, China to teach.

I was in a completely, new world yet again. This time — even though I didn’t have a clue — I wasn’t worried about what would happen next. Using the principles I learned from my days on the Brave New Workshop’s youth team, I’ve been able to embrace the challenges of everyday life in a foreign country. By trusting that each day offers up gifts and it’s your choice on how they’re accepted, I’ve been able to learn Mandarin Chinese, meet people from every corner of the world, and most importantly to help bring the principles of improv to a new generation of Chinese students.

Taking the games from the world of improv and putting them into an English learning environment has allowed me to help my students take on a new approach to learning. Instead of sitting for two hours writing and reciting this week’s vocabulary again and again, we jump up on our feet. We play Alphabet bodies to learn spelling or I am a Tree to discuss how to tell stories. An improv game like What I like about your idea is teaches them the “Golden Rule of Improv” and that the power of saying “Yes and” will open up a new world of possibilities.

The Second High School Attached to Beijing Normal University, “English through Improv/Theater” class, 2016.

Now, I’m looking to the future. It’s a huge unknown which makes me super excited. With several friends in China, we started “Minds At Play,” an organization that hopes to use improv for all aspects of life and for all ages. We’ve taken improv into embassies, corporations and hospitals all over Beijing. Improv is so powerful, because it’s for everyone and its lessons apply to everything! Seventeen years ago, I joined a class at some place called Brave New Workshop. I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on me. Thank you to BNW for giving me the ability to “Yes and” this crazy adventure I call my life.

– Nathan Paul, alum of BNW SU Teen Team, Improviser, Teacher
Be Brave. Do Improv.