Posts

This Blog Sucks

Has this ever happened to you? After a string of great shows you get tons of compliments, but instead of being happy you start to worry… will you be able to keep it up? You’ve raised the bar on your improvising so high that if you don’t deliver you will disappoint. You’re paralyzed in your fear. What if the next show sucks?

Eventually it will happen. You will have a show that will suck. Maybe several. But it will be a new kind of suck; a better version of what “suck” used to look like, because “suck” is relative. What “suck” looked like a year ago is not the same as this year. Your suckiness is getting better. That has been my experience in improv.

That is where I am today. I don’t feel like writing this blog, because I felt that last two blogs were exceptional. I am afraid I won’t be able to top them and I am afraid to suck. It’s called “expectations” and they work like this: you set a really high standard for yourself and if you don’t maintain it you suck.  It’s non-negotiable. It’s pass or fail. You end up either winning a Pulitzer Prize or you’re a piece of shit.

So what if I committed to the idea that the blog I am writing right now is going to suck?

I agree to write the worst blog ever. (In a lot of ways, I think I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start.) I’ll let go of my expectations, and as my new-age friends like to say, “lean into” it.  I’m serious here. Just by saying that out loud, I have come up with at least 10 ways I can make this blog really suck. Like what if I just stop typing and end the blog right here?

That would suck, wouldn’t it? But I don’t have the courage to do that because of my fear of what you’d think of me as writer, and more importantly; as a person.

I feel a little lighter just knowing that this blog is going to suck. I’m having a little more fun typing these words onto the page. I am actually enjoying myself. I may even dare to use the word “happy.” I feel happy.

I have to tell you, I don’t know where this blog is going to end up… except it’s going to suck. All roads leads to Suckville. And I am really fighting the urge to tie this up and give you a Jimmy lesson, but I am resisting it. I want to honor our commitment to suckiness, but maybe a lesson out of left field would really make it suck.

Let’s keep this simple. How about we all agree that this was one of the worst blogs I have ever written, so we can all move on? In a weird way admitting that to you has given me some hope that I still have some great blogs ahead of me. (This blog not included.) Who would’ve thought that committing to sucking would give me so much freedom and inspiration? I should do it more often.

Fine– I suck and I’m cool with it. I am going out to celebrate the fact that I wrote a blog that sucked. See you next week, and that is how you end a blog that sucks.

 

Sign up for Jimmy’s August 22nd “Two-Person Scene Tune Up Workshop” to reserve your spot today!

Tips to Nail Your Next Improv Audition

Auditioning is a way of life for improvisers. You’ll never stop auditioning, so you’ll just have to get good at it! Learning to embrace the audition process, and to finally relax and have fun, will do wonders for your performance. We asked some professional improvisers — Jay Sukow, a former teacher at Second City; Amey Goerlich, an independent improv teacher in New York; Will Hines, former head of the UCB Training Center in New York; Brian Posen, Program Head at the Second City Training Center; and Adal Rifai, member of the Harold Commission, which selects teams for iO Chicago — for their best tips to use at your next improv audition.

Here’s what they had to say:

Headshots and Resumes

“Get a good, professional headshot. Not a photo from a friend who shoots weddings, or a Facebook photo, or a stick figure drawing (I’ve personally seen this more than 10 times). And get an acting resume together. It’s different than a professional resume. A sparse resume is fine if you’re just starting off. But never, ever lie on your resume. Your resume lists an Irish accent? Be ready to speak it. Says you can do a New York accent? Change it immediately. There is no ‘New York’ accent. There are boroughs, the Hudson Valley, upstate New York, but no one New York accent. My wife and I ran a company who cast actors and improvisers. She’s from the Bronx. If during our audition you claimed you could do a New York accent, she’d ask to hear it. It was always a caricature of Jersey/Boston/Sopranos. And we never cast that person. Ever.” — Jay Sukow

“Be prepared. Have a few headshots and resumes always ready to go. Even though many people do not take hard copies anymore it’s still good to have them on hand and replace as you go. Don’t scramble around the day-of making copies at Kinkos.” — Amey Goerlich

Audition-Appropriate Appearance

“Treat this audition like a job; which it is. No shorts, t-shirts, sunglasses, baseball hats, loud shoes, dangling jewelry. Look sharp.” — Jay Sukow

“Look your best. Don’t dress like a slob, but don’t overdress for an audition. Know your type and have some outfits on hand that are your go-to winning looks.” — Amey Goerlich

“Dress appropriately. Look nice. And try to wear a little something that would have the auditioners remember you. A bow in your hair. A vest. Something that makes you pop a bit without being ‘on.’” — Brian Posen

“Dress as if you’re doing a show. If you wear a t-shirt, sandals, shorts, a hat (on stage), a scarf or anything else that’s distracting or could be used as a prop then I’m not going to take you seriously. Even just blue jeans and a button-up are fine. Doesn’t have to be a tux. And for God’s sake, turn off your phones.” — Adal Rifai

Be On Time

“Show up early, be ready to wait. Be nice to the person checking you in. Let them know if you have to step out so when they call your name, they aren’t searching for you.” — Jay Sukow

“Be on time. Even though you may have three auditions in one day, schedule appropriately and give yourself enough time to get to each location. Try to be 10 minutes early. Sometimes you can slip in before your time, which is great, because most auditions are at least 30 minutes behind.” — Amey Goerlich

“Arrive early. You need time to breathe and get yourself in the right frame of mind.” — Brian Posen

“Be early. If you show up 15 minutes before your timeslot then you’re on time. If you show up on the dot, you’re late.” — Adal Rifai

Take Time to Focus, Prep, and Warm Up

“Relax. Take a deep breath before your audition. Leave your ego at the door. Warm up. A lot improvisers don’t warm up before the audition and they go in nervous and cold and don’t connect to their scene partner. They think they can just show up and be great. Or, they’ll show up late, or flustered and/or sweaty, or not ready in various ways. That will affect your audition. Put yourself in a mind-set to be ready to play.” — Jay Sukow

“Prep yourself before going in. Warm up. Get yourself playful and focused. Have your mind set to initiate, listen, support and have all your scenes filled with feeling.” –Brian Posen

Walking into the Audition

“It is an audition. You are judged once you walk into the room. Auditors each look for something different. I watch how much you support your partner. I watch where your focus is when you’re waiting to improvise. Other people look for different things. There’s no one way to audition, and each person looks for something different. If you want to be an improviser or actor, your job is to audition. This audition is one of many. It is a chance to perform. We want to watch you have fun.” — Jay Sukow

“If you have to introduce yourself as part of the audition, make sure to fill the space with your voice, state your name with confidence, and always have a feel about yourself that is nice and playful.” — Brian Posen

Tips to Follow During the Audition

“Listen. Listen to what the instructions are, listen to your scene partner. In the scene, listen and react. Also, be great. I watch a lot of people think it’s funny to be ‘ironically bad’ at something. It’s not. Play to the height of your intelligence. Also, make emotional connections with your scene partner immediately. Know who they are. Be in a relationship with emphasis on the first part of that word: relate. Give them gifts. We are all supporting actors.” — Jay Sukow

“Don’t start with a fight. The pressure to react decisively and to give yourself a point of view will trick you into being offended by the first choice. Spend your first move being cool with and unsurprised by the start of the scene — say yes, match tone, be cool, be in it. Even if the person initiates (or if YOU initiate) with an accusation, the accusation should not be received with surprise: agree with it. You’ll feel a nice little click of connection. After that click, you’ll be okay reacting however you feel, even if your characters THEN start arguing.” — Will Hines

“Take direction. If a director or casting agent asks you to try it a different way, then show them you can take direction and do it. Be your brand, but show range. If you have two scenes, try to support in one and initiate in another. Play a straight-man and then play a character, or just show that you can have a point of view that is strong.” — Amey Goerlich

“Feel, feel, feel! Please… feel something. And something about your partner. The scene is always about sharing moments between you and the other breathing people on the stage. Make sure you show your range. Make sure not to fall into the trap of playing the same type of character throughout the entire audition. Mix it up. Always be interested and active. Especially if you are watching someone else’s work. Believe me… we watch you watch. Are you a team player or just about yourself? Be nice. Be positive. Be playful. Be confident. Be grateful. Be nice. And be nice.” — Brian Posen

“View everyone you’re playing with as potential teammates and not competition. Show us your unique comedic point of view and sensibilities. Don’t mimic pop culture or your favorite improvisers outright. It’s incredibly important to make your scene partner look good in scenes. If you can make anyone you play with look brilliant, then I want to cast you. If you wait until your partner stops talking and then launch into something ‘funny’ you were thinking about, you’re not going to get a callback. Be ok with spitting out coal and turning it into a diamond. There’s always a handful of people in auditions who struggle and shut down, trying to think of the absolute most brilliant or perfect thing to say for an initiation or response, trying to spit out a diamond. Just react and go from there. I’d rather see a scene start a bit slower and watch the humor build than see a scene start with a killer one liner and then tank because there’s nowhere else to go.” — Adal Rifai

After the Audition

“Once that audition is done, leave it there and move on. Don’t play out the audition in your head and think of things you could’ve done differently. You’ll never be able to change it. Be a nice person. It’s a small community and we talk to each other. And, if you don’t get it, audition again. Follow the fear.” — Jay Sukow

“Depending on the audition, send a ‘thank you’ letter within a few days of the audition. Believe me, a ‘thank you’ goes far and leaves an impression.” — Brian Posen

“Never give up. Also know when to say ‘when.’ Is this goal important to your overall career? Maybe one theater isn’t grooving with your brand or sensibility. That’s fine — go somewhere else and try another theater. If all fails, create your own community of like-minded people to perform and network with. If you are affected too much by rejection then this isn’t a career you want to get into. The wins may be small, but they outweigh the losses by a long-shot.” — Amey Goerlich

 

What are your best tips for rocking improv auditions? Share in the comments below.

Don’t forget to register for the last available spots in Jimmy Carrane’s upcoming Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives (July 11-12 and 25-26) before they’re gone!

3 Exercises to Help You Start Your Scenes in the Middle

How many times have you started a scene by saying, “How are you doing?” or “What are you up to?” If you’ve done that, you know that the scene goes absolutely nowhere. If you have a good teacher, director, or coach, he or she will usually say, “You need to start your scenes in the middle.” You may look at them glassy-eyed, not quite understanding the concept or how it applies to your improv. This is very common. Don’t panic.

The easiest way to teach how to start your scenes in the middle: the goal is to get into the action that happens after the formalities of “Hi, what’s up?” and begin with a strong statement that addresses what’s going on in the relationship. More along the lines of: “I can’t believe you just asked me out at work.” Or: “Your mother found this pot in your bedroom.”

I can tell you that I’ve been saying, “You need to start your scenes in the middle” for so many years that I’m forgetting what it means myself. So I’m writing this blog for the both of us.

Lately, I’ve seen students in my Art of Slow Comedy improv classes struggle with this issue, and instead of trying to explain this piece of improv theory (which only leads to more confusion), I have found it much more helpful to give them an exercise to practice it. So, I will do the same for you and give you three exercises that’ll help you start your scenes in the middle. I’ve found these exercises to be very simple and effective, and players have a lot of fun doing them.

1. Read Your Partner

Have two players come out and face each other in silence for a couple of seconds. Then ask each player to say what emotion they’re getting off the other player. Primary emotions — such as happy, sad, anger, fear, or a variation of these — work best.

Once the players have named the emotion, ask them what their relationship is to each other. Then ask them, “What just happened in your relationship?”

The emotions will lead the scene. For instance, if two players say that one looks sad and the other looks afraid, and they determine that they are mother and daughter, they can do a scene where the mother is sad and the daughter is afraid because the mother just found pot in the daughter’s room.

I let the players do this multiple times to build this muscle. For more advanced players, I let them start by naming the emotions, relationship and what just happened, and then go into a scene one line at a time.

2. 60, 45, 30, 15, 10 Second

This is a great exercise that helps players instinctively discover for themselves where the middle of the scene is. Get two players up to do a 60-second, two-person scene. Then they will repeat the scene in 45 seconds, then in 30 seconds, then 15 seconds, and then 10 seconds. By incrementally decreasing the time of the scene, players are forced to get to the meat of the scene quickly.

3. Name Repetition

Two players come out and name each others’ characters in the scene. Beth, Fred, Beth, Fred, Beth, Fred… They keep repeating this until one of the players feels that it’s time to speak with an opening line. “Fred, I can’t believe you showed up for my graduation! I thought you were going to be in Hawaii.”

Once the opening line is spoken, one of the players then drops the repetition and goes into the scene. What’s great about this exercise is it helps the players build tension in the scene, which typically leads to a strong opening line.

Do you have any games or exercises that you use to help you start in the middle of a scene? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to register for one of my two upcoming Summer Intensives if you want to learn more about how to start your scenes in the middle — spots are filling quickly!