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Auditioning for Improv Troupes

Auditions are very intimidating! Sometimes attending an audition causes us to play differently, because we want to please, we want to impress, and we want to be chosen. Auditions can also vary with their organization and process, so I’m going to touch on a few things that I look for when I’m hosting an audition, specifically for an improv comedy show.

Don’t Take It Personally
Auditions bring in a very diverse group of individuals with the same hopes of being selected. The organizers also have diverse goals and purposes for facilitating their audition.  Maybe they are looking to add one or two new cast members, maybe they are looking to organize a new team, maybe they are simply scouting talent.  More often than not, they have a specific checklist that pertains to the growth of their group.  Perhaps they want someone with elaborate mime skills, perhaps they are looking for someone who can sing, perhaps they are looking to diversify their group through gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.  Ultimately, you might do an amazing job at an audition but still receive that dreaded rejection letter.  It might cause you reflect and think, “maybe I didn’t do that well.”  That’s generally not true!  I’ve seen amazingly talented improvisors in auditions, but may not choose them, because there’s a conflict with what we are looking for in that moment.  Boom Chicago (Amsterdam, NL) held a nationwide talent search that featured auditions in multiple cities, but they were only searching for 4 people.  The odds of succeeding in that situation is very slim, and the chances are high that even amazingly talented performers will be rejected.  Take each audition as a learning experience, and don’t let it dissuade you from trying again.  If you’re passionate about improv, keep doing it.

Make Your Partner Look Good
In an audition, you want to stand out, and sometimes panic takes over, and you dominate, steam-roll, and take the spotlight.  Improv is the art of the ensemble, which means organizers are looking for likeable individuals who have great collaboration skills.  If a performer enters scenes that do not need them, speaks in long sentences that are centered on their character, or gets into “funny” mode and makes jokes at the expense of the scene…that’s a red flag for organizers.  Give your partner gifts (information that helps define them), don’t pimp them (give them difficult stunts or challenging physical or verbal actions to perform), and treat them as your BFF on-stage.  Sure, auditions are about getting yourself out there, but you can do that most effectively by helping your scene partner get out there.

Improv auditions are all different.  Some are shorter sessions, some are longer. Some feature short form games, some feature long form formats, some feature both. Some feature monologues, some feature exercises you learned in your Level 1 class.  You never really know what to expect.  But whatever happens, you need to commit.  Hell, I’ve had an audition, where I had participants lip sync to songs that they may not know.  I do that, because I want to see if you are comfortable being uncomfortable.  That is one of the things I look for in auditions…absolute comfort in your own skin.  As Mick Napier (Annoyance Theater) says, “Improv is the art of being O.K. with not knowing what the f– you’re doing”.  Find comfort in ignorance.  Which leads me to another point…

Don’t Give a Sh*t!
Hear me out, first.  Obviously, give a sh*t about improv, give a sh*t about your scene partners, but when it comes to the organizers (and heck, this also applies to the audience), forget about the notion that they are judging you.  Fear of judgment will hold you back from growth.  If you are going to an audition and want to please the organizers (or audience), it will cause you play cautious.  If you are in your head about the rules of improv, SCREW THE RULES!  If you do a transaction scene (a scene about one person buying a product from someone else), I don’t care, as long as you’re having fun!  If you do a teaching scene (a scene where you…”teach” something to someone else), I don’t care, as long as you’re having fun teaching that thing or are having fun being taught!  There are so many damn rules in improv, and at a point, you need to just forget about them.  If there’s one “rule” to keep in mind, it’s to make your partner look good.  I like seeing that.  But all those other rules shouldn’t be shackles.  Saw those suckers off.

This one is super easy, and something that a lot of people don’t do.  If you’re in an audition, where you introduce yourself, obviously smile and be pleasant.  But, I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about smiling when you are not in scenes.  You might be doing a game of Freeze Tag, where two improvisors are down stage, front & center, and the rest of the improvisors are lined up behind them.  The amount of times I have scanned the faces of the people in the back line and see faces that are filled with so much judgment and scorn is immeasurable.  We are watching you, even when you are not in a scene! If I see you with an annoyed expression, I probably won’t consider you, because having done over 1,000 shows, the audience is ALWAYS watching YOU! During a show, I’ll just be off to the side not in the spotlight, and I’ll feel someone in the second row looking at me, because improv shows are interesting.  Audience members want to take it all in to try to understand how all this magic works.  So it’s super simple…smile! Don’t fake a cheesy smile, be genuine, because if you fake your smile, chances are the organizers will think you’re trying to get attention.

Be On-Time, Be Clean, & CARE!
This is probably the most important part.  If the audition starts at 8:00pm, arrive 10-15 minutes early. Don’t arrive right at 8:00pm or even worse…8:05pm!  There’s a theatre saying: “Early is on-time, on-time is late, and late is unacceptable.” If someone comes in after I’ve started the audition, I won’t consider them, because this is an introduction to how they structure their time.  I know, scheduling conflicts happen…work, traffic, family, life, but you need to take these into account and plan accordingly.  Arrive ready to go.  Also, be clean.  Just go off work? Bring a change of clothes, apply some deodorant, take a breath mint.  Nobody wants to play with people who don’t take the time to clean up.  The audience doesn’t want to walk into a middle school locker room, they want to walk into a pleasant escape.

Be You
Don’t come in trying to please me.  I want to see YOU! Be true to yourself.  Now, get out there and play!


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