What Directors Want You To Know About Auditioning for Improv

This weekend we taught a class in “Auditioning for Improv” at HUGE Theater.  To prepare, I asked local improv directors for some tips, the things they wanted auditioners to know.  Here’s what they said:

1) Stevie Ray, Stevie Ray’s Improv Company:

  • Be yourself and don’t worry about the others auditioning.  Turn off the “laugh meter” which forces you to try to top others on stage.  “One of the worst outcomes of recent auditions is discovering the person you hired is not the same person who auditioned.”

2) The Brave New Student Union:

  • Mike Fotis: Just play and allow your unique qualities to stand out, instead of treating the audition like a showcase. “I’m looking for people who are ready to play and open to their partner’s contributions. Remember to listen and seize an opportunity when you see it. Above all, take your nerves and tell them to go screw themselves. Have fun.”
  • Joe Bozic: “The main thing I want is for a person to listen to and build upon their scene partner’s offers. The speech I usually give encourages them to listen and be affected by their scene partner, and use that to heighten their emotion. if that doesn’t make sense, then just forget it all and have fun playing.”

3) Frankie Manella, YesAnd Studios

  • “Although it can be useful to audition as practice and to get yourself out there… Please do NOT audition for something that if you are chosen for you cannot commit to or don’t really want to do.  I’m fine with people auditioning beyond their level and taking risks, I love that.  It’s the ones that are qualified and audition and get in and then decide it’s not for them after being notified.  It seems disrespectful and leaves a bad impression with those of us who take the time to hold and watch auditions.”

4) Hannah Kuhlmann, director of  “Star Trek: The Next Improvisation:

  • “Take it seriously. You’re not just auditioning for that particular show, you’re auditioning for that director. If you blow off the audition or act unprofessional when you’re there, you may not be considered for future shows no matter how well those future auditions go. Unprofessional behavior sticks in people’s memories.
  • Directors aren’t just looking at the quality of your performance or how funny you are. In fact, it’s really difficult to be funny at an audition. Instead of trying for laughs, focus on being castable. Show that you have solid fundamental improv skills, that you can take direction, and that you’re a good listener to other members of the ensemble and a director.
  • Make sure to follow all the pre-audition directions. They are often a test to see if you can read, write, and pay attention to simple details. For example, if the audition call says to bring a resume?  Bring a resume.  If the audition call says to wear clothes for movement, don’t wear heels.”

5) Doug Neithercott, the Artistic Director of ComedySportz-Twin Cities:

  • “Don’t be too ‘comfortable’ – even if I have seen you around, chatted with you, drank with you or more…still give me the ‘respect’ and ‘authority’ as a representative of the company you are auditioning for.
  • Show your “best” you possible – I am usually looking for someone with talent AND a great personality, so always be true to yourself but also put your best foot forward.  Look nice, be nice to other people, let your true personality shine while also showing off your talent.
  • Know that you are auditioning from the moment you step through the door – how you act at registration, during warm ups or sitting and watching can also factor in to how people perceive you and ultimately judge you.  It seems unfair, but its true.
  • Don’t showboat – Just because you get the most laughs doesn’t mean you are doing well at performing “good improv.”  Always remember the basics – who/what/where, make your partner look good, listening, etc – because I notice/look for that as well.
  • Be honest about what sort of time commitment you can make – we all want to get the job, but lying about your commitment level doesn’t help anyone!  Ask questions about when rehearsals are (if not covered), if you can miss rehearsals, how much time is expected of an individual performer, etc.  If you don’t think you can make the commitment…DON’T AUDITION.  Also be up front about other projects (ongoing or upcoming) if you know they will conflict with what you are auditioning for.”

6) Hannah Wydevan, director of “Rom Com”:

“The most common mistakes I have noticed in auditions I have run with both youth and adults are some of the following:

  • Playing to the ‘gag’ of the scene; I am much more likely to pick someone who is not being outright ‘funny’, but is playing in the real world and working with their scene partner
  • Poor eye contact
  • Focusing on the stuff in the scene instead of the who, where, why
  • Trampling other people with their own ideas
  • …improvisers who audition and may know the director will sometimes mock auditioners who are not known to be good improvisers…I have had people who are auditioning for me give me a knowing look while someone is auditioning, as if to say ‘yeah, we all know this guy sucks'”.

7) Jill Bernard, director of Beatbox-Twin Cities:

  • If it is possible to see the show or troupe you’re auditioning for, do that.
  • Really listen to what the director says at the beginning of the audition.  They should tell you exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Get your brain in a playful place on your way over, sing along to the radio or something.
  • If there is a skill that’s required (i.e. rapping, a British accent), practice that.
  • Ask about anything you’re unsure of.  There’s a lot of improv jargon that varies by theater.  For example, if they ask you to do a “montage” or a “sweep edit” and you don’t know what that is, ask.
  • If they ask you to do something at the audition that you can’t do, do it more. (e.g. singing)  Guts get you points.
  • THE CALLBACK: If they don’t tell you what they’re looking to see more of, ask.
  • If they do not cast you, remember it’s not personal.  They saw you for only two minutes.  They may have a specific need and it has nothing to do with you.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, audition again.  It can be cumulative.  The next time that director sees you, they might see a better or more developed example of what you can do.
  • You can ask for feedback after the audition, by email if nothing else.  They might not like it because it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but they owe you that.  Many directors are more than happy to talk to you about what to focus on for next time.

BONUS: Some resources for where to find auditions in the Twin Cities:

  • It’s best to get on the mailing list for the theater you’re interested in, also send an email to their general email address asking them to let you know about auditions.
  • Here’s the Google group to join:  http://groups.google.com/group/twin-cities-improv
  • Here’s a website for acting auditions mostly but occasional improv:http://mnplaylist.com/classified
  • The book I recommend for the acting business in general in the Twin Cities: “The Acting Biz” by Beth Chaplin.