Every six months at the Vancouver TheatreSports League, we hold auditions for our Rookie League. The students in our school, the Improv Comedy Institute, can audition for a spot in the League which means they have their own show on Sundays. It is so interesting to watch our students undergo the stress of an improv audition. Some of them rise to the occasion and shine like crazy. Others, even the strong students, sometimes crumble under the pressure. This is heartbreaking to see but, alas, it is also a reality of becoming a professional improviser. Auditioning is another tool You need to master for your improv tool belt. I wanted to impart some wisdom that I have learned from being on both sides of the panel table.
Think of each audition as a class on how to audition. Most folks dread auditions but this is a chance to grow. Auditions are a skill. We try to avoid them because they feel unpleasant but the only way to get good at them is to do them! This is a chance to get used to dealing with the special kind of stress that is common in all improv auditions. That way, when you audition for Second City, iO or SNL, you will have the experience to rock the shop.
Manage your stress. I think a lot of folks find improv auditions stressful because so much of it is beyond their control. You don’t know what you will be doing. You don’t know who your scene partner will be. You don’t have a script so there is nothing you can really do to prepare. So, how do you deal with this? You accept that there are some things you can’t control (other people/ the lack of a script) which is cool because this means that everyone will be in the same boat. Instead focus on what stress you can control (yourself).
Do not contribute to your own stress. Some improvisors contribute to their own stress by making choices that do not help them to relax. Do a bit of pre-planning so you can arrive at the audition relaxed and ready to go. Eg. plan to arrive early so you aren’t panicked if you miss your bus or can’t find parking. Eat a snack and get a good night’s sleep the night before. Bring water with you. Warm up in a way that works for you (this may or may not involve warming up with other people). Stretch in the space before the audition begins. If you find yourself feeling nervous, force yourself to yawn (it relaxes you) or stand with your hands on your hips for two or more minutes. (see Amy Cuddy Ted Talks) and promise yourself a treat after the audition. (E.g. a cookie) Finally…and this is very important…. Don’t let your internal voice tell you that you just sucked in that one freeze tag etc. If you find yourself spiralling into a pity party over how lousy your audition is going, tell yourself to Stop It. Don’t let your internal critic take you mentally out of the audition. Stay focused, present and positive. Remember, every moment on stage is a fresh start. Smile, breathe, repeat.
Trust the panel members. People running an audition have usually been improvisors for a long time. They will know what you are trying to do even if it doesn’t work (because of a block from a less experienced player etc.). This means that a failed scene is not the end of the world– get it??? We appreciate risk and good improv choices.
Rely on the basics of improv. Show that you understand the importance environment, characters, relationships, reactions, listening, teamwork, story and activity in scenes. Come into the scene with a strong character and make clear choices (in terms of environment, emotional reactions, story, offers, solutions etc.). Show that you can listen and make others look great. Show that you can shine and be a brilliant support player. Don’t try to be funny at the expense of the scene. Be the type of player that everyone would want on their team.
Dealing with a problematic scene partner. In an open audition, you can often end up in a scene with a less experienced player….or, let’s face it, a train wreck of a scene partner. If you are a strong performer, the chances that this type of player will want to be in a scene with you are really high. They know you will make them look good (so take it as a compliment). J When working with a newer player like this, understand that they are under stress. When players are under stress, they will more often block, comment, gag, not listen, talk too much, wimp etc….they will do all the things that we don’t want them to do!
Some possible solutions for dealing with a problematic scene partner are: 1) Don’t panic. Remember to breathe. 2) Listen to them and react emotionally. 3) Stay positive. NEVER EVER HACK OR COMMENT ON THEM. It looks badly on you….it shows that you are getting frustrated. 4) Do your best to keep the story moving forward. 5) Come in with a strong character and stick to it. Add in as many other parts of good scene work that you can – e.g. add environment, relationship, activity etc . It will show that you know what you are doing even if they don’t!!! 6) If they are so out of control that they are physically dangerous, stay away from them.
Have fun. It sounds so cliché but it is true. If you are genuinely having a good time, it will show. It will make you glow on stage. (One teacher I know says to write a word or phrase that you want to project on stage during an improv audition and put it in your pocket. During the audition when you feel stressed, focus on that word or phrase in your pocket.…she is a bit flakey but was on SNL…so maybe give it a try!)
Don’t focus on the outcome. The outcome is the outcome. If you make it on to the team, congratulations! If you do not, that is great too. So many people want to do improv but are not brave enough to come to a class, let alone do an improv audition. Celebrate your bravery. Learn what to work on for next time and audition again. Take a variety of classes, workout with friends, watch shows, do shows, and enjoy yourself. Improv is not about the end result – it is about the journey. Don’t miss the joy of being in the moment with this art form by only focussing on the end result.
Go forth and audition bravely. I am cheering for you.