I’ve been asked a handful of times over the last week if I have advice for how to do well in improv castings. I coach, teach and direct improv shows and I’m also an actor, so I know the stresses that can come with auditions. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you what I would be looking for in an improv audition.
1. It starts on the way
You never know who you will bump into on your way to the casting, so be in polite and lovely mode the whole time. Make a point of saying hello to other people at the venue and in the waiting room. You want them all to be allies and it might be the only connection you get with your fellow players before you’re put in a scene with them.
2. Be on time
Duh! Leave lots of time for disasters en route. Be early. Get a cuppa and walk around the block. Being late is the stupidest reason for not getting a job. Even if it’s the only time you’ve ever been late, they will think you’re generally a late or unreliable person. If you do have a series of disasters that makes you late, try to take a breath before you go in. Don’t be flustered, just apologise and join in with a minimum of fuss.
3. Dress appropriately
Make sure you’re wearing something you can move in and something that won’t show off your bits when you do physical work. Scrappy clothes indicate that you don’t care or that you’re super poor because you’ve NEVER got a job EVER (even if that’s the case, you don’t want them to know that).
4. Bring water
Some people don’t. Amazing.
5. Support, not showboating
Your instinct will be that you want to be seen, to stand out, but if you have a good improviser running the casting, they will notice how good or bad you are at support. Even in auditions, it’s super important to make the other person look good by really listening to them, building on their ideas and editing at a time that serves the scene. How many people are playing? Work out the % you should show up on stage. Don’t hang back or be in every single scene. You don’t need to do every single idea you have, but serve the scene or the set you are performing in.
6. Be a great audience
If you are watching other people at any point in the casting, there is nothing nicer than laughing and smiling and caring about the other improv that’s happening. It may feel counter intuitive because you want to get the job, but you’ll look like a nice human that enjoys improv and who doesn’t want that person on their team?!
7. Show your range
Just like a good show, you’re going to need variation in your performance. If you’re initiating a lot, make sure you do some scenes where you’re responding and reacting off someone else’s initiation. If you’ve played a lot of big, cartoonish characters thus far, play some real-world characters that are close to you, play honest and truthful over funny. Do talky scenes after doing a lot of quiet scenes and so forth.
8. Do your research
Who are these guys? What is their style? Where do they play? What do you like about them? Get ready to answer questions about why you want to be in this group. Also, check in with yourself; is this where you want to be?
9. Be yourself
If you’re very adaptable and you can blag your way into a show without it really suiting you and how you like to play, that’s not going to be much fun. Make sure that you make choices because they’re exciting to you, not because you’re trying to prove anything. If you get it, they will be casting you for you and you’ll have a much nicer time. I have found that being myself has got me a lot more work that trying to guess what a casting director wants and trying to please them.
10. Take direction
Listen out for what you are being asked to do; it sounds simple, but SO many people just can’t take direction. If your director wants you to play in a different way, or try something out, go with it; that’s less decisions you have to make! The director really wants you to be the best. They are not looking for anyone to fail. The best outcome for them is that everyone is brilliant.
11. Be kind to yourself if you don’t get it
There are three main reasons for not getting a job
12. Above and beyond
You are much more likely to be liked and noticed if the group have seen you at their shows. It indicates that you really enjoy what they do. Go say hi, but don’t hang around them awkwardly! See if you can help on lights or sound or tearing tickets. If going to their shows feels like a chore, it’s probably not a group you really want to be a part of anyway.
My favourite advice (I think I learned this from a Brian Cranston video):
Auditioning is the whole of the job. You came and you did your best. It’s just a bonus if you actually book the work. Think of it that way and you’ll be satisfied before you even know the result.
Katy Schutte is a London-based improviser who plays in Destination the improvised podcast, a whole bunch of live shows including Project2 and The Maydays and teaches improv classes.