Improv audition experiences
September 4, 2012 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Improv class. Audition for the performance track, or take a beginners' class first?

I'm deciding whether to audition for the performance track class at a local improv theater or to start with the beginners' class and audition next year. I majored in an intensive acting program, and have some (very minor) improv training, but that was 10 years ago and I haven't done any acting or improv since. I'm an improv fan, and have watched many live and taped performances over the years.

Not sure of my goal yet. I'm doing this for fun, but also want to perform if all goes well.

What I'm looking for from MeFites so I can get a sense of which option I should choose:

-Have you auditioned for an improv class before? What was it like?

-Any tips going into an improv audition? What to do, what not to do, etc.

-Based on my info, should I take the beginner classes first? I was a good improver when I was in school, but, again, that was years ago and I never did any improv outside of the classroom or school performance setting.

-Bonus: Have you auditioned for the Performance Track class at the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis? Please share your story. (Or any BNW improv class stories.)

Thanks for the help!
posted by Zosia Blue to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From a quick look at their curriculum, it seems to me you should be fine going straight into the performance track if you know that's your goal. The beginner track appears to be more for those who are just trying it as a lark, or nervous about playing in front of other people.

I'm not familiar with any other programs that make such a distinction right off the bat, so I can't advise you from experience. I can say that, in Minneapolis, I'd look into the Huge Theater if you're serious about longform. Jill Bernard is a big name nationally; her Scram(ble) with Joe Bill at the Del Close Festival from a few years ago is a thing of beauty: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Plus, she's a delightful person.
posted by Superplin at 7:08 PM on September 4, 2012

I majored in an intensive acting program, and have some (very minor) improv training, but that was 10 years ago and I haven't done any acting or improv since. I'm an improv fan, and have watched many live and taped performances over the years.

You are not a beginner.

My guess is that the beginner class is going to introduce the basics of what improv is and the Best Practices for doing improv. You most likely know that stuff if you've ever played improv games in a theatre class.

It sounds like some of your concern is that you haven't done this in ten years. I doubt there is substantively anything else to know that you're unaware of. If you feel rusty in a performance capacity, can you dip your toe in the water just to remind yourself that you know how to do this? Maybe get some friends together to play an improv game?

Can you sit in on a class before you sign up and/or go to the auditions? Is there someone at the school you can call and ask about this?
posted by Sara C. at 7:34 PM on September 4, 2012

My boyfriend did the beginner class at Huge over the summer and will be doing the intermediate course that's starting up later this month. We also just go to Huge to watch improv semi-regularly, and there's some really good stuff there. So yeah, definitely think about talking to Huge as well as BNW.
posted by kavasa at 9:17 PM on September 4, 2012

I didn't know about Huge! Great idea - their theater is closer to me, and they seem great.
posted by Zosia Blue at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2012

I recently did several levels of Improv at Second City in Toronto. (My context: Levels A-E, each a semester long, then auditions for 'performance' oriented classes. So there was a lot of room between 'beginner' and 'performance'. If you're going somewhere that just has "beginner" and "performance" with nothing in between, there's a good chance that the performance group isn't as advanced as i'm imagining.)

I was a beginner when i started. My beginner classes were filled with skilled experienced actors who were absolutely my equal when it came to improvising, no better. Acting and improvising are really different skills! (Of course being a good actor helps you act better while you improvise, but a lot of the skill in improv doesn't really come down to acting at all.)

Improvising takes practice, and you've been out of practice for ten years! There is also A LOT of technique that you learn over the various levels, and i'd be surprised if it was all covered in your very minor improv training. In addition, each school or troupe will have certain "this is how we do this here", and pretty much everyone else will have risen through the ranks of the courses, and will all be on the same page.

Take the beginner level, and then if you really feel like you're super over-qualified to be there, audition for the performance class. (Or, i suppose, you can always audition and if you don't get in, then you can do the beginner class.)
posted by Kololo at 10:34 PM on September 4, 2012

I am an improviser. I have auditioned for a lot of opportunities unsuccessfully and a few opportunities successfully. I now teach improv and am on the decision-making committee for a few different groups that have recently held auditions... so I know how the process works from both sides.

My advice is to audition, if they'll let you. I have a few thoughts here:

- If they're holding auditions, they want to see as much variety as possible to better inform their casting decisions. Whether you're chosen or not, the casting directors will be glad that they saw you.

- Auditions aren't about how you perceive yourself, they're about how the casting committee perceives you. There are many improvisers who lack self-confidence who are actually brilliant, and many who think they're excellent improvisers but are actually quite deluded. Let the casting people judge you instead of you judging yourself. They WANT to find good people. Maybe you're what they're after, even though you don't know it yet.

- Auditions have very little to do with you, and a lot to do with what the group is looking for. If the group is in desperate need of more female members, and a guy nails his audition, that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to get cast. Check out this blog post, as some of it should be relevant to your situation.

- Improv auditions are weird and can be stressful. Improvising under stress is VERY difficult. Even if you don't get cast, you'll have valuable experience that'll calm your nerves for the next time.

- The worst thing they can say is "We're unable to offer you a spot this time. Please get more practice and try again next time". Unless you mess up in some absurd way (we recently had a guy audition who was rather unpleasant and made everything into a rape joke), they'll be glad to have you try again in the future. If you're passionate enough to audition, they aren't going to burn bridges with you just because they weren't able to cast you.

- The next auditions might be a year from now. What if you ARE ready now? Do you really want to wait?

- I'm a no-bullshit kind of guy and am always happy to let people know why I wasn't able to cast them. Even if you don't get cast, perhaps you'll get valuable notes for what to work on for next time.

Good luck! Make your scene partner look good, and remember your beginner training.

The best way to look good as an individual is to be the person who makes everyone else look good. To achieve the selfish want of "I want to get cast on an improv team instead of all of these other people", you often have to show that you can be selfless on stage. Head fuck, right? I might laugh at a showboat or steamroller, but I'm probably not going to cast them.
posted by adamk at 12:25 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

And Jill Bernard is a big name internationally. She just spent a month here in Australia and I had a blast working with her. It's lonely being one of the only American improvisers down under sometimes.
posted by adamk at 12:27 AM on September 5, 2012

(Or, i suppose, you can always audition and if you don't get in, then you can do the beginner class.)

This would be my suggestion.

It's true that improv and acting are very different skillsets, and the OP is out of practice. However, Second City attracts a completely different set of students than most improv theatres (even others in Chicago, much less in smaller cities), so you are far less likely to find yourself at the bottom of the pack in your average Level 1 class.

Then again, as I said, it's unusual in my experience to offer two different starting points rather than a divergent path after a couple of early level classes, so maybe I'm off base.

I must say the curriculum has a number of peculiarities, aside from the dual-track thing. I don't get why they have Harold as the culmination of the program, rather than the basic starting point for various formats. I have no idea how you can possible do Deconstruction if you don't have experience with the fundamentals of Harold. When I first learned the basic format (which here we do in Level III), I remember it seemed really complicated, with so much to remember. Now it's second nature, but even so Deconstruction is still a harder workout of my improv muscles.
posted by Superplin at 12:28 AM on September 5, 2012

I posted a link to this on my Twitter, and Jill Bernard said:

"Tell'em Jill Bernard says go for it, audition for Performance Track! You'll be asked to do scenes, it will be fun."
posted by adamwolf at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2012

Terrific answers. Thank you. I actually signed up for a class at Huge based on your recommendations. I didn't know Jill Bernard before this thread, but I'm now a fan, and I can't wait to learn at her theater. I still may audition at some point at Brave New Workshop, but I'm liking the Huge vibe right now and will start there.
posted by Zosia Blue at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

MSP folks: talk an improv class at HUGE. Has totally changed my life, and I can't recommend their classes highly enough.
posted by Zosia Blue at 2:09 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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