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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!

Go ahead, promote yourself

Go Ahead, Promote Yourself

Improv Nerd comedy podcast at Stage 773One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask people to come to my improv shows. I have been performing on a regular basis for more than 20 years and it’s still difficult. I tell myself “Oh, they don’t really care,” or “Why would they come see me?”

You may be performing at one of the big improv theaters where the crowds seem to come in by themselves, so if that is the case you can stop reading. But for those brave people who go off on your own and start something from the ground up, this is for you.

We are performers and we need an audience. Let’s be honest: If there’s no audience, it’s a rehearsal.

Audiences don’t just show up by themselves. And just because you post an event about your show on Facebook doesn’t mean they’re going to come. To get an audience, you have to ask people to come.

Asking people to come to your show is important because it’s about letting myself be seen, it’s about getting support and it’s about telling the universe, “Guess what? I am serious about what I am doing here; I am legit.”

I grew up in a family where you could not express yourself, where you were supposed to play small and hide. Self-expression did not exist. It was about being invisible, not being a burden — you would not dare ask for what you needed.

When I was a kid and I had a baseball game or a show, I would discourage my parents from coming. If they did surprise me and show up, I would feel sick. I’d get a pit in my stomach and want them to leave. I couldn’t take in the support and I didn’t want to be seen in life, so I certainly did not want to be seen on stage. I did my best to keep my worlds separate.

Now that I’m in my late 40s, this how I still look at things: Asking someone to come to my show would be a burden, because I am burden. Welcome to my world.

So when I started doing Improv Nerd, a comedy podcast and live show, I relied heavily on public relations, Facebook and posters to get the word out about the show. I got some incredible press on the show, and I thought this was enough to pack the house.

It wasn’t. It never is, because promoting is an inside job. You have to believe in yourself; the words have to come out of your mouth. Instead, I was hiding behind Facebook and putting off the inevitable, that dirty little word called self-promotion.

I can tell myself all sorts of lies about self-promotion: that people will think I am a jerk, or that I am bragging, or my favorite one, all I want to do is show up and play. But really by avoiding self-promotion, all I want to do is continue to hide.

This season, my wife, Lauren, encouraged me to do the scariest thing possible, which was to promote myself by telling my friends about Improv Nerd, in person. I was afraid to ask, but I knew this would help me grow.

So I started to ask people — my students, my friends — and every time, when I pulled a post card out of my pocket, I thought I was having stroke. I would stammer a little, my voice would go softer and my heart would beat harder, and I’d say “Hey, I’d love it if you could come to my show. I could use the support.”

And here is the painful part: People actually came. I was filled with lots of gratitude and wanted to run away all at the same time.

These were the feelings that I had been avoiding since childhood. It’s still really uncomfortable for me, and I don’t do it perfectly, but I feel like I have started.

Oh, by the way, my last performance of Improv Nerd this season is this Sunday at 5 pm at Stage 773, and I would love it if you could come. I could use the support.

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