Things I learned as a tech that are important or I still use today in running a space, or just when I’m in the booth or building a space to be as flexible as possible. Many of them took a long time to learn, even when someone was trying to teach them to me but they all influence what I do to this day.
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.
FAQ about the lottery and IAGG guidelines:
*PLEASE send any questions that are not answered here to butch at hugetheater dot com so they can be added!*
The draw is done on 12/1, 4/1 and 8/1 at noon every year
At noon on those days a copy of the spreadsheet is generated so the entry form can remain open year round and you can enter any time – if you enter at 12:01pm the day of the lottery your entry just goes into the next round.
People ALWAYS ask about “gaming the system”
The lottery entries are always adjusted to keep the odds fair AND I do understand that there is plenty of overlap between groups – every effort is made to keep those things in mind and keep the lottery fair for everyone.
There are no penalties for groups being entered multiple times since I know sometimes each member of the group will submit or someone will submit and then have to submit again to include some conflicts – all entries for the same group are combined to capture all that information and still create only 1 entry for each group.
>> If you enter your group and then find out about conflicts or changes, go ahead and enter it again with all the new information – no problem at all ! <<
Once duplicate entries are dealt with the lottery is sorted several times to determine the average number of groups entered by any given person – that’s the “magic number”
– In the past when the magic number has been especially high (it’s been as high as 8 groups per person), people with only one entry were doubled or tripled to bring up the average low number up as well.
– anyone with more than the magic number of entries is reduced to the magic number of entries and to keep the odds fair but can put up any of their groups that were entered if they are selected
– People with a high number of groups under their name have their entries changed to their name rather than group name to indicate that they can put up whatever group they like.
– There is no penalty or rules about how many groups you can be in so if you submit two groups and someone else submits two groups that you’re also in, it doesn’t count against anyone, this is also addressed by reverting people in a high number of groups to just their name rather than group name and letting them choose which group to put up if they are selected.
– yes, I do check for fake email addresses, variations of email addresses and several other sorts to make sure the lottery is as fair and random as possible – In thirteen years I have seen it all and my only goal is to keep it fair.
– At the very end the names of groups and email addresses and everything identifying the groups is then hidden and the spreadsheet is sorted according to the random integers that everyone enters when they submit, which is the final bit of randomness before the draw.
– I use Random.org to generate a list of integers to fill as many spots as we have available for the season and those integers correspond to the row number in the spreadsheet of the adjusted, blinded, randomized entries.
– The list is then un-blinded, I send the email to let everyone (chosen or not) know the list of groups chosen and then get back to sorting all the various scheduling requests in the selected groups and putting together the calendar as quickly as possible.
Having to make all these adjustments is why the lottery is taking longer and longer each time – ultimately the odds remain the same for everyone and I know some of it is a result of an overabundance of ideas but some is still a deliberate attempt to work the odds. I think we address it pretty well so people with lots of group ideas still have the same chance to be selected AND can put up as many of their ideas as they like without eclipsing people that only enter once or twice.
What you need to know when performing at IAGG:
– There is a mandatory pre-show meeting at 7pm. That is your call time, no matter when you are up in the show. Someone from your group needs to be there.
– When promoting the shows (And you damn well SHOULD be) please use the show name “Improv A Go Go” and start time of 8pm – not just your group name and when you go on, because you’re asking people to come for the whole show rather than just your set.
– This show has been kept running and vital by the combined efforts of hundreds of people, please join in and help. If you want a packed show, bring a big audience. Do not rely on the theater or the show or the other groups or the audience to “just be there” or they won’t be. We’ve had months of barely anyone in the seats and we’ve had months when every Sunday was packed – both are the direct result of the work groups put into it.
– Shoes are required to perform, regardless of season.
You may not perform if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol. The host/house manager will make the call on what is “impaired” if needed and any further discussions on the subject will take place no sooner than Monday morning (meaning it won’t be something we argue about on Sunday night). These are things I expect not to have to police because you are all adults. Thank you.
– Groups perform in the order listed on the calendar – which has the groups just starting their run up last/latest – unless there are scheduling needs to address.
“We would like to go on last” does not qualify as a real scheduling need.
– If you will be late for the pre-show meeting please email or text Butch as soon as you know. Everyone has this information sent to them in the results email. No excuses.
– If I have not heard from you and your group is not at the pre-show meeting it will be pulled from the lineup and another group will perform in your place. In the past I have attempted to call people to see if someone is on the way – if the pre-show meeting ends and I have to make that phone call it will be to let you know that you needn’t bother.
– If your group doesn’t show up and we can’t contact anyone the rest of your dates will be removed from the calendar. This has only happened a couple times in our entire history but given how many people try to get in the lottery and can’t, it is outrageous when we have a group get a spot and then just not show up.
– If you need to trade dates you may do so with any group on the calendar but please let me know so I can update the master schedule. If you need email addresses to get in touch with people, let me know.
– Please do NOT contact groups that are not on the schedule to fill in, I have a randomly-generated waitlist and replacement groups are contacted in order.
I think that is everything.
As always, the hard part about writing these outpourings of thanks is that we’re always saying thank you to the people that give so much to HUGE. I already feel like my words don’t do justice to how grateful I am and don’t ever want our thanks to just seem rote – so the task is always searching for new ways to properly capture it.
The important point of this blog
the Improv A Thon will now be 24-ish non-consecutive hours due to restrictions limiting the hours we can even be inside our own building. There’s so much about that sentence that makes me furious but we have important things to cover….
Our beer and wine license (not just ours, any beer and wine license) mandates that the building be emptied from the hours of 2am-8am. That means not even HUGE staff can be in the theater, not even if we’re locked up, closed to the public and performing for a camera that streams the event out online. Believe me, we have been trying to find an answer other than changing one of the most fundamental parts of the event.
The Improv A Thon will now run:
Tuesday the 15th, 10pm – 2am
We will vacate the theater as required until 8am
Shows resume at 8am Wednesday morning and will run until Midnight.
Please be patient with us as we completely overhaul an event on short notice.
If you would like to get some of the background of the problem, you’re welcome to read on.
If not, we will see you on Tuesday night for a massive night of fundraising for HUGE Theater. Come help us crush Give To The Max Day. We will make you laugh so hard you will beg for death.
HUGE Theater is going to be on an episode of TPT’s MN Original, a public television show that highlights local artists and arts organizations.
Date Time Channel
11/6/2011 6:00 PM 2
11/6/2011 10:00 PM Life
11/7/2011 4:00 AM Life
11/7/2011 7:00 PM SW MN
11/8/2011 1:00 AM SW MN
11/8/2011 7:00 AM SW MN
11/8/2011 1:00 PM SW MN
Our story and the full episode will also be posted on mnoriginal.org with additional content, web exclusive videos, more background and links to MN Original artists.
[We asked some local experts for their top tips on promoting improv shows. This week’s tips are from Hannah Kuhlmann, who has worked and performed with various Twin Cities improv troupes since 2003. She teaches and directs at Huge Theater, and can currently be seen in Creature Feature and Show X and with the other two members of Splendid Things, Saturday nights at 9:30 pm through the end of October. Hannah is also the mastermind behind many of our most exciting HUGE Theater postcard designs.]
Here are my top ten tips for promoting your improv. Do this stuff, do it early and do it right… so you can spend your time improvising instead.
[We asked some local experts for their top tips on promoting improv shows. This week’s tips are from Tom Reed who, in addition to being a brilliant improvisor, wrote and performed wildly successful one-man Fringe shows Harry Potter and the Half-Drunk Twins, Bite Me, Twilight, and Disney Dethroned: Snowcahontas and the Tangled FrogBeast. Tom Reed blogs at www.frecklemeat.com and can be seen regularly at Comedy Sportz, Brave New Workshop and as crooning sensation Lounge-asaurus Rex. Thanks for these wonderful tips, Tom!]
I want everyone in the whole world to love improv as much as I do. The first step is getting the whole world to an improv show. Based on my experience, here are 10 tips that will eventually lead to improv world domination, or at least a few more people at our shows. You gotta start somewhere!
[We asked some local experts for their top tips on promoting improv shows. The first to reply was renaissance man Max Sparber. He’s a playwright, the lead singer of the band Ultramod, a blogger for MinnPost He was editor in chief ofThe Omaha Reader, but we first met him during his three years as the theater critic for City Pages, where he was one of the only local critics to ever review improv. Thanks for these great tips, Max!]
People underestimate the importance of promotion. I worked for years with an Omaha theater company that put up posters and hoped for good word of mouth, and, as a result, got small audiences. I find it helps to think of promotion as being similar to sending out invites to a party. If you haven’t bothered to tell anybody about the party, there is a good chance they won’t show up.
With this in mind, the first step is to get the word out in as general a way as possible. And so here’s tip one:
the state of things at HUGE
It’s almost the end of the month, which means it’s time for another Rent Party!
Josh rightly pointed out at the last Rent Party that everything we do at HUGE is to make the rent and we should really just party together all the time. I happen to agree – but the final Friday of the month is “officially” Pay What You Can night and Rent Party!
Seems like it’s worth updating the state of HUGE – last time I posted where we were it was all doom and gloom. People’s reactions were varied but everyone was incredibly supportive and appreciated the openness with which we’re able to handle being in some serious trouble. We can still be open, even about diminishing trouble and I want to still be very careful about how I phrase things to avoid giving people the idea that we are not depending on support still. We very much are. While my tone may be lighter these days, I am never joking when I say that HUGE Theater depends on you. We are doing everything we can but have to issue the call for help as the end of the month nears – but this blog will include some good news and hopefully some encouraging signs.