I came across this challenging game in the 1990’s when I studied with the Players Workshop of the Second City. Currently, I feature it in my semester-long improv course that focuses on characterization as it’s a nice way to weave together some of those threads. It’s a two-person scene that riffs on the concept of an Audition and I know it as Three Through the Door.
Working in pairs, one player assumes the role of the director or casting agent while the other serves as three consecutive actors. In a series of three vignettes, the actor enters the space and, with the assistance of the director, goes through the various stages of a brief interview and audition. At the completion of each audition process, the actor leaves the space only to immediately return as a completely new character also attending the audition. This second character is then, in turn, followed by a third and final new persona. Once the director has seen all three contenders, the two improvisers change roles with the former director now providing “three through the door”.
Player A, as the director, sits a a large table with a stack of papers and resumes.
Player A: “Next.”
Player B enters with a confident gait and strides over the the director, firmly shaking their hand.
Player B: “So nice to see you again. I was a huge fan of your recent adaptation of Hamlet. Some really lovely and original work there.”
Player A: “It’s certainly good of you to come in today. I was just reviewing your resume…”
Player B: (interrupting jovially) “That’s me! Dustin Jones. I’m excited to show you how I’ve applied the feedback you gave me last time…”
Player A: “Well, let me see what you’ve brought me today and we’ll take it from there…”
This format is a great way to practice diving head first into strong characterizations and finding the details and nuances as you go. The director should see themselves as primarily a facilitator, nudging the various characters into discoveries and interesting dynamics. Ideally by the end of the exercise, each improviser has crafted three compelling and unique characters that could easily populate future scenic work.
Traps and Tips
1.) Commit to the audition premise. There is a lot of fun to be had in the banter between the various actors and the director, but also strive to get to the actual audition. If you are working in a group of non-actors who do not have monologues at the ready, it’s more than fine to recite lyrics to a song or make up a monologue completely. If you do have one or more monologues in your repertory, I think it can be enlightening to bring them out in this very different context and try them from wildly different points of view and energies. (It’s an interesting choice to have all three characters use the same piece, for example, so that you’re encouraged to find something new in it each time.) The director can then make adjustments or modifications as part of the scene as well thereby facilitating new discoveries from old terrain.
2.) Seek contrast and finesse in your characters. Often characters will start off a little gimmicky due to the need to just grab at something and begin. To offset this tendency, the director serves an instrumental function in encouraging levels and honesty as the characters have a little more room to develop. When selecting those “first” inspiring choices or energies as the actor, seek interesting contrasts to stretch yourself. For an added level of challenge, I think it can be powerful to craft three characters or versions of yourself who might all actually audition for the same role or play as opposed to just crafting three wildly different personas, such as a precocious child, indifferent young adult, and new-to-the-boards octogenarian. (Although there is undeniably a value in approaching the task at hand in this latter manner as well.) This exercise can also promote problematic portrayals if we’re not careful: perhaps review my thoughts on Archetypes in improv here if this is a concern.
3.) Use all your gifts as an improviser. In addition to exploring three different character points of view, also be sure to consider other facets of your craft as a performer. Does each character have a different tempo when it comes to moving or speaking? Do they have innately different status relationships with the director? How do they occupy the audition space: are they free and comfortable, minimize their physical presence and jittery, or expansive and controlling? Consider using a different animal essence, physical lead or verbal rhythm in order to unlock new possibilities. This form is wonderfully open and can serve a myriad of different characterization techniques and processes so be sure to bring past lessons with you as you walk “through the door”. It’s unlikely that you’re have the time and wherewithal to consider all of these dynamics, but just committing to a specific in one or two areas can launch you on a new path.
4.) As the director seek to empower rather than endow. The director should certainly strive to be a helpful and enabling scene partner, providing new observations and opportunities through which the personas can find their voices and cores. I would caution, however, that I think it’s in the spirit of the game to allow for the major choices to come from the actors rather than the director otherwise the dynamic can shift into a series of endowments (or possibly pimps) rather than more open-ended offers that encourage the actor to make their own informed choices. It’s helpful to play along with any games the actor might pitch, “Yes, I did see you at that Hollywood party…” but be wary of making broad defining choices, “Temuera Morrison! I’m a huge fan of your work”. While this game certainly could be played in a lay-over manner, with the director offering up an increasingly difficult array of hoops for the actor to jump through, I don’t think this elevates the underlying value of empowering the improviser in the hot seat to find their own character truths.
I’ll often have class members playing this dynamic in pairs all at once as it is a lengthy game – easily 8 to 10 minutes or more for each trio combination. This provides a little anonymity as players take their first steps, and also prevents observer fatigue as watching 10 or 15 of these in a row can be a little daunting and is likely to put those performing later in the mix very much in their heads as they increasingly feel the pressure to rule out possible characters based on what they have seen already. I’ll wander through the workshop space looking for trends and feedback. Providing time warnings is also helpful so that the third character doesn’t get short-changed if the first two were expansive or verbose.
Allow a decent amount of time to debrief (ideally before the reversal of roles and then again at the conclusion of the exercise) as players often gain a lot from both their struggles and successes in the game. If you’re considering using this in a classroom or workshop situation, I’d also advise that it will probably serve you better later in your programming as the conceit requires considerable trust and confidence.
Connected Concept: Auditions