Please help me think of improv scenarios for an audition I am running.
October 26, 2012 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Please help me think of improv scenarios for an audition I am running.

I am a director and playwright who will be holding auditions soon for a new show. This show is a bit of an experiment for me, in that I will not be going in with a pre-written script, but will be writing the show over course of rehearsals expressly for whatever actors I end up casting.

One major aspect of rehearsals while the show is still in the "writing" stage is going to be structured improv; using an initial general premise as a basis, the actors will be given ideas for characters and events and allowed to play with them to see where they go, and I will then adapt those that work well into the script. (They will get credit for collaborating on the writing for doing this, of course.)

Because of this, I want to have an improv component to my auditions. Auditioners will be asked to play out an improvised scenario of some kind with the one precast actress.

But I want to come up with some scenarios that an auditioner can potentially get a lot out of fairly easily, and most of the ones I am finding so far through research are ... lame. Like "You are visiting the dentist!" lame. While I know that even "visiting the dentist" can potentially lead to a great scene, I really would like to give my auditioners a more solid jumping off point than that. And I need to come up with a whole bunch of them, all good.

The only example I have found so far that I liked is, "This parole board has convened to decide whether to release you early, or keep you in prison for your full life sentence. Why should we let you out?"

And so I turn to Ask Metafilter. Can you help me think up more audition scenes?
posted by kyrademon to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Broadly, are you aiming for funny or serious or something else?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:02 PM on October 26, 2012

A wonderful resource for improv games and exercises: Keith Johnstone's Impro for Storytellers (free PDF download).
posted by ottereroticist at 12:10 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you limited to single auditioners at a time? I once had an improv in an audition where I was put together with two young people and told, "This fellow you never met just asked for permission to marry your daughter." 1. maybe that scenario works for you and 2. maybe multliple auditioners could make for more interesting improv scenarios/results. Good luck!
posted by Infinity_8 at 12:12 PM on October 26, 2012

You're the longtime director of an orchestra and you've been told you are being replaced. (by the other person auditioning, who's much younger)

You're a mother of five, whose youngest child is leaving home for the army.

You're a vet, and you have to break some bad news to a poor client - their young dog needs an expensive procedure or it will die.

You're a carpenter and you've just found out that your assistant has screwed things up on a job for a rich patron, who is due home in an hour.

You're a clergy member at a religious service, when a police officer comes in and tells everybody to get down, there's a guy with a gun outside.

You're a mid-level bureaucrat, and one of your staff has come to tell you that your boss is sexually harassing her.

You're a banker who has been running a fraud, and you suspect that a new guy in your department may be an undercover cop/auditor.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 PM on October 26, 2012

You're a student from the second-rate state school, looking for a job with a state-level political campaign. The campaign manager's assistant won't give you the time of day, won't set up an appointment with the campaign manager, doesn't hire people from your school.

You're a back-pain patient, and your doctor has become convinced you're faking it to get pain meds.

You're the assistant director on a major movie and the charismatic director is having a mental breakdown. You've been called into a meeting with the director and the higher-ups to explain what's going on; the director has started to blame you.

You're a disaster expert who has to go on tv during a disaster - take your pick - and tell the public to shelter in place (because evacuation is impossible at this point).

You're the owner of a new swanky restaurant opening next to an old, somewhat threadbare, mom-n-pop greasy spoon. You had tried to buy them out before your opening, but they wouldn't budge. You're seeing the owner of the greasy spoon for the first time since your opening, while having a smoke out back.

You're a factory foreman, and you have to tell your workers - some of whom you've worked with for twenty years - that the factory is closing and a big layoff is coming. You aren't allowed to criticize management when you do it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:51 PM on October 26, 2012

Take old questions from the green, and convert them into confrontation scenarios.

You want to find out if your so is cheating, but without revealing that you snooped.

The actress is your roommate, and she thinks you have been [stealing her stuff | spiking her iguana's food with mescaline | taking books out of her bookshelf and replacing them with identical books | etc]. How do you respond when she confronts you?

Asking this question here is kinda like walking into a library and asking where a girl can find a good book in this one-horse town :-P
posted by tel3path at 1:04 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend checking out the game Fiasco. It's about creating a web of relationships between a set of players, then improvising a series of scenes. Some extremely light rules are in place to keep tension building and ensure that people act on their characters' motivations. It's based roughly on the feeling one gets from the better Cohen brothers movies, where simple intentions lead people into disastrous situations. The Fiasco Companion also has a couple chapters on using Fiasco as a writing-tool. Their Playsets of the Month page is full of quasi-random improv seeds.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:47 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

This exercise will help you audition actors more than it will help you write the script:

Tell the actor he is allowed to say only one phrase for every line he has in the scene. The phrase can be anything, but I favor "I love you." It limits the actor to just one line but also gives the actor tremendous room to explore his or her cadence, volume, intonation, emotion, and physical gestures/environment work. You'll get a lot of insight into the actual acting taking place, and actors at all familiar with improv will be familiar with this exercise. The scene might go like this:

Pre-cast actress: Please help me wash the dishes.
Auditioner: I love you.
Pre-cast actress: Seriously. I need you to dry after I wash them.
Auditioner: I love you.
Pre-cast actress: Come on. Let's just finish so we can watch Breaking Bad.
Auditioner: I love you.
Pre-cast actress: Take this dish. Here. Dry it.
Auditioner: I love you.
Pre-cast actress: WHY DO YOU PUNISH ME LIKE THIS? Do you even still love me? You find me unattractive, don't you?
Auditioner: I love you.
Pre-cast actress: I give up. You do the damn dishes.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:44 PM on October 26, 2012

My only piece of advice would be to give scenarios that involve two people that know one another (why the dentist scenario isn't great). After that, it might depend on whether it's comedic or not, but I wouldn't necessarily skew towards conflict for any reason.

Decide what you're looking for. Do you want interesting ideas from a person? Do you want someone who picks up subtle social cues and reacts to them rather than ignoring them? Are you looking for revelations or confessions?

As a general rule, I would go towards trying to play more commonplace scenarios with a twist than dramatic ones. I envision the histrionics that every actor will go through to plead for their lives before a parole board and I see a lot of "the same." I'd take a scenario of a husband confessing to his wife that he actually DOESN'T like her "famous lasagna" any day.
posted by moedym at 6:06 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're planning to develop a script with these people through improv, then you should be looking for the ability to improvise, and also the ability to develop something small into something larger. Also, what kind of people they are, where they're coming from.

So don't come up with scenarios; come up with concepts. Lost love. Family resentment. Awkward silence. Unwelcome surprise. Things like that. They'll be left to work entirely with their own personal interpretation of the concept, imbued with traces of their own personal memories, and so at first you'll get insight into the kind of people they are...and as they begin to tease out a form for the improv, you'll find out how good they are at that.
posted by davejay at 10:51 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to watch a game of Fiasco, as mentioned by kaibutsu, the Web show Tabletop did an episode on it:

Part 1, Part 2. There's also a video of the setup so you can get an idea of how that part works, as well as interviews with the players.
posted by brentajones at 7:56 PM on November 1, 2012

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