“We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess.”Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Autobiography
Auditioning is a necessary but seldom relished part of our craft as improvisers. I’ve experienced and led a wide range of different audition processes: from professional genre pieces and short-form ensembles, to community productions and collegiate troupes. While the details of these projects and processes vary from show to show and venue to venue, there are undoubtedly some helpful Audition strategies I’ve gleaned along the way that apply more times than they do not. So here they are…!
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
1.) Do your homework. We rarely do our best and most playful work when we’re uninformed going into an audition. In most cases, you should be able to find out something about the piece, style or energy of the company or project. If audition materials are provided, read them thoroughly and jot down any questions you might have in case you get an opportunity to ask. If the company or production is currently active, make sure you go and see them in action (and, if possible, briefly introduce yourself afterwards). Have a look at any available online resources as well. While you cannot become a completely different kind of improviser overnight to suit a company’s ethos, you can make an effort to lead with the most fitting tools currently available in your improv tool belt. And just having a sense of content parameters can save you the embarrassment of playing too G rated in an adult venue or dropping your most colorful language in a format designed to entertain families.
2.) Listen and observe. Generally you’ll be auditioned in small groups but there may also be an opportunity to observe others in the audition process. Take advantage of this chance every way you can. Listen to any feedback or adjustments provided by those running the auditions: often you can get a sense of their preferences or needs. Are they enjoying a more overtly comedic or ribald style of play, or nudging players towards scenes that are more connected and vulnerable? Does the audition space provide any challenges or unique opportunities for play? For example, are players struggling to stay open or be heard, and are there ways you can smartly adjust your choices when it’s your turn to play? You’ll also want to make sure you’re being a supportive and present audience member (this certainly will be noticed as well), but don’t completely disengage your directorial eye. And when it’s your turn, make sure you’re openly and receptively taking any notes or feedback you may be given.
3.) Focus on connection. With a few very rare exceptions, improv is a team sport and it’s likely that the directing bench is interested in how you connect and play with others. Don’t let a desire to shine or “be seen” veer you off course from being a giving and attentive scene partner. As in any good improv scene, the interest and answers lie in the relationships you’re creating and exploring on stage. This focus can be particularly difficult to pursue when our inner voices are fearful that we might not be doing enough or haven’t been sufficiently noticed, but selfish improv will rarely be the lingua franca.
4.) Focus on play. Yes, you should do your research and take the process seriously, but remember to find joy and abandon in the audition itself. Be careful of relentlessly résumé-ing or name dropping, be sure to celebrate the successes and brave struggles of others, and try to keep your competitive beast at bay. A lesson I keep learning as a director is that the “most talented” option may not always best serve the project or ensemble, especially if they bring with them pervasive negativity, a lack of resilience, or deep fear of getting something wrong. In a field where in many ways the process is the product, displaying your ability to contribute joyfully and playfully even when the work gets tough or stressful will serve you well.
5.) Practice resilience and grace. This particular audition may not work out in your favor. It’s a really tough part of our industry that there will always be much more interest and talent than most improv stages could ever possibly satiate. Consider every audition as an opportunity to play and learn something new about yourself or your craft. If this particular experience revealed a deficit, consider deepening your training in that area. If you’re not cast this time but you made a strong positive impression, you might find yourself approached for a future gig. Improv practitioners are always looking for potential talent. Play the long game, especially if this is a company or creative team that you particularly respect and enjoy. Send a simple and sincere thank you note, or be sure to go and see the finished product. And if you are cast, be sure to show grace and consideration for those who may not have had similar success. Our improv community is surprisingly small at times, and a poor “winner” is no more enticing than a sore “loser.”
We can do a lot of harm to our own chances if we engage in too much second-guessing about a particular director’s casting needs or preferences. Do your research, but then get your “play” on, taking joyful risks and lifting up your partners for similar abandon and success. Be the very best version of you – no one else can be better at that than you.
Synonyms: Preparation, Professionalism
Connected Game: Three Through the Door