Tips for improv auditions
How auditions work
Improv auditions vary from show to show but all tend to have some group warm games first to create a supportive environment and then lots of 2-3 people scenes. The number of scenes you get to do depends on the number of applications for the show.
Auditions mainly focus on improvised two person scenes from suggestion, as that’s the main thing most improv forms have in common. There are sometimes then some larger 3-4 people scenes or scenes or games specific to the show.
You aren’t in competition with the other person on stage
When you are on stage with someone at an audition you are not in competition with them. The job of an improviser is to make each other look good, and this is especially true for auditions. The basics of listen, agree, yes and are the best things to focus on in an audition and what we look for most. So being in competition with your scene partner in an audition is counter-productive.
Auditions may feel like a competition and they can feel like a difficult atmosphere because of that, but we are looking for improvisers who can see through all that and focus on supporting each other around them, helping others to relax and basically have a good time. This comes with practice so we recommend taking advantage of as many performing opportunities as possible and going to as many auditions as possible to build up experience.
If a scene goes great we’re likely to put everyone from that scene into the show. So you aren’t in competition with your scene partner.
Focus on the basics
At improv auditions it’s usually best to focus on the basics. Listening, agreement, yes and, who what where, building relationships. These things done well are always what we look for. Things to avoid are playing overly negative scenes or aggressive characters, as we’re looking for people who can lift the spirits of the room.
Warm yourself up before entering the room
It’s an audition not a teaching workshop, so while the director will try to run some warm up games it’s not their job to remind people of key improv skills and put them in the right head space, and they aren’t going to help you out in scenes. So take responsibility for turning up on time and finding a quiet space outside of the room where you can relax, breathe, warm up and put yourself in the right frame of mind for kind and generous improv. This is what you’ll need to be able to do as a professional performer anyway so it’s good to start that at the audition too.
Also when entering an audition room it’s helpful to already your headphones out and your bag/coat/keys etc sorted so you are entering present and ready rather than already flustered.
Yes it would be great to improvise three scenes first to warm up, but that’s not how shows work and auditions are looking for people who are ready to do shows. So focus on the scene you are in and warm up before you are even in the room.
What not to do
The first improviser went on stage and spent time building a physical environment from the suggestion with character and commitment.
The next two improvisers then went on stage, sat behind her, and had a conversation between themselves that was nothing to do with what she was doing and totally ignored her. This is not making the other person look good.
The first person coped with this really well and we wouldn’t hesitate to put her in a show.
Also don’t turn up with coffee and sushi, eat it during the audition, and then leave it on the chair afterwards for the director to clean up. That really doesn’t help.
You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to be perfect. The show rehearsal process is where we make the show. So don’t worry about mistakes, just brush them off and get back on stage. In fact being able to laugh at mistakes is actually likely to get you into a team.
Auditions are also a great way to meet other people who are also interested in performing and many spin off groups have formed from people who initially met at auditions.
Treat auditions as a chance to meet like minded people
Auditions are a great opportunity to connect with other people in the improv scene who are interested in performing in exactly the same type of show as you and have a similar level experience as you.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer didn’t get into house teams at UCB in New York but they connected and made a web series and went on to make Broad City, which is one of the best comedies to happen in years.
Rebrand your nerves as excitement
Your heart goes faster, you want to pace around, you feel a bit fidgety, your eyes open wide. Yes, auditions can make you feel nervous. But notice all those symptoms are also symptoms of excitement. Rebrand your nerves as excitement. They are all signs that you are challenging yourself and doing something you care about. So congratulate yourself on doing something most people would be too scared to even attempt.
The challenge is then to apply that excitement in the right direction. Mainly into listening and emotionally connecting with the other person you are on stage with.
Focus on your breathing and relax, and have pleasure in feeling alive and awake.
Do what’s best for the scene
At an audition two improvisers were playing explorers in the arctic. They mentioned a yeti frozen in ice. One improviser ran in from off stage and played the yeti frozen in ice. They didn’t get to move or talk in their scene, but that’s what the scene demanded. They got into the show.
What to do if you don’t get cast in the show
Don’t give up!
It’s very rare for someone to make it into a show at their first ever improv audition. The more auditions you do the more you’ll learn and the more likely you are likely to get into a later show.
Rather than seeing how it goes at just 1 improv audition tell yourself you are going to go to 100 improv auditions over your life, then each one becomes a fun learning experience.
We’ve got loads of other performing opportunities for you
If you don’t make a show the best thing to do is make the most of all the other performing opportunities out there. Go to jams, form your own group, perform at our pre-party nights and basically just do as much improv on stage as you can. When people apply for shows we have huge respect for people who’ve previously started their own shows or been to lots of jams. We also have space and support for people who have formed their own groups.
Audition for future shows
We don’t forget people who audition with us. In fact quite the opposite. We have a huge amount of respect for people who put themselves forwards for auditions and keep them on a list for future opportunities.
We also have a huge respect for people who audition for multiple shows. This shows a commitment and will power that we want to work with. We recently offered a place to someone in a show who had just missed out at three previous auditions. When a place in a show opened up she was top of the list.
Going to auditions gets you known as someone who is brave and interested in performing, so even if you don’t get into that particular show it’s still a good way to meet like-minded people.
Hoopla itself started from not getting into an audition. We had just started improvising and tried auditions but couldn’t get in. So we started our own regular practice session, formed our own group and 14 years later we’re the UK’s biggest improv company. Badaboom badabing.
So if you don’t get in it doesn’t mean do less, it means do more. Go big.
Additional notes from the people running auditions
Whenever we run improv auditions we do get a lot of applications for just a few places. It’s one of the reasons we are now starting more shows than ever, to make sure we are giving our students as many performing opportunities as possible.
At most auditions there are about 2-3 people who are top of the list for being cast in the team, and that’s usually because they already have years of experience of performing in a similar show around the improv scene, including runs at The Edinburgh Fringe, and would therefore be strong leaders within the group around whom we can build teams. So we recruit them first as they are so great at inspiring the less experienced members and helping us shape the group.
After that there is often very little in it from person to person. I know that can be frustrating, but most people who get to the audition stage actually have very similar experience and great potential. So we have to cast around what we feel will create the strongest team and best mix of personalities. Due to numbers we often aren’t able to offer someone a place even if there experience and audition are really good. It’s one of the reasons we encourage people not to give up and to audition again.