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Austin, TX 78701 Map

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April, 2013

Improv Audition Techniques and Tips

Hideout Theatre performer and director, Kaci Beeler.

By Kaci Beeler

As an actor I’ve auditioned for countless plays, films, commercials, and improv shows. I’ve also been on the other side of the process and have held and watched auditions for several years now. Being on both sides of the situation has given me some insight that I’d like to share with aspiring actors and improvisers looking to book a part in an ensemble improv show.

At The Hideout Theatre, we hold auditions for our Mainstage productions 6 times a year, in addition to occasional auditions for other shows like the Flying Theater Machine (our improv show for kids) and Pick Your Own Path.

We have no prerequisites for auditions. Absolutely anyone can come and audition for a slot in our shows. That said, we are often looking for actors with specific skills who can improvise. For our Mainstage shows we have a limited time frame in which to mount the show, and our directors like to be able to hit the ground running. This isn’t said to be discouraging, it’s just the truth of the situation. Most of our shows have a mix of experienced performers and newer performers that we feel have potential.

Auditioning is a skill, and there are things you can do to make your experience easier and more fun for everyone involved.

Preparation

Before signing up for an audition, make sure to check your personal calendar to see if you can actually commit to the rehearsal and show dates. If you’re not available for a large majority of the dates, it’s unlikely you’ll get cast, and you should probably consider waiting to audition when your schedule is more flexible or open. When an actor drops out of a production after getting cast, it looks bad. No one wants to work with a flake, no matter how good they are, plain and simple.

Thoroughly read and re-read the audition notice. Does the call mention certain source materials or inspirations to look at? Is the director looking for certain skills? Do your research. If you’re auditioning for improvised Shakespeare, for instance, it would be a good idea to actually read some Shakespeare, watch some films or a play, and really get a feel for the subject. At worst, you’ll learn something. You might even learn you don’t like the source material…in which case, you might not want to audition for the production after all. Just because the show is improvised doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared. Some people are very good at winging it, but those people are few and far between. For the rest of us, it’s nice to at least have an idea of the style and tone we might be portraying in case the director wants to see it.

Punctuality

Charles Dickens Unleashed actros

photo by Michael Yew

Charles Dickens Unleashed, 2011.

Show up on time for your audition slot, or better yet, early (sometimes there is paperwork to fill out). When it’s your audition time, be ready to go. Make sure to eat your sandwich or snack beforehand and have everything in order.

Presentation

When coming into an audition room, play it cool. Be friendly, but not loud and boisterous. The manic energy in a group improv audition can be infectious and fun, but it’s rarely going to help you stand out in a positive way. Save the squeals with friends for later and focus on listening to the director. They’ll usually tell you exactly what they want to see happen.

Speak loudly and clearly. This is HUGE. HUGE!! If you can’t be heard, you might as well not be in the room. Stage work requires projection and speaking in a normal volume is not enough. Our downstairs theater at The Hideout in particular is a space that absolutely requires our improvisers to project loudly and clearly all the way to the back wall during a performance. A director can always believe that you will be able to speak more softly, so speak loudly and clearly (no muttering unless it’s intentional) from the beginning.

Be a team player. The director is often looking for someone who plays well with others. Even if an improviser is the funniest person in the room, if they ignore and step on every scene partner they work with, it’s unlikely they’ll get cast. Improv relies on a strong ensemble and listening and leaving space for others is just as important as taking the stage yourself.

Hideout Directors Andy Crouch and Troy Miller.
Photo by Steve Rogers.

That said, take your time to shine. We want team players but we also want improvisers who will claim the stage when it’s their time to shine and be the star. Are you delivering a monologue? Plant your feet, be bold and speak out! Take risks! If you’re a part of a group of people onstage working together, make sure you actually get out onstage. If you don’t go out onstage in an audition, how do we know you will in the show? A hesitant improviser can be as much of a detriment to an ensemble piece as a showboat.

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