Many commercials and some re-enactment parts come to you with one simple instruction: 'No sides, all improvised'. For all those trained comedians, this is a huge relief and they can walk in excited to play with new scene partners. For the actors who are more comfortable with scripts…panic will start to set in. "Improv?! Do I have to be funny, what if my scene partner stinks at improv?" Here are five things you can focus on that will make your auditions memorable.
1: Focus on your partner. One thing I see, time and time again, is a lack of connection in an improvised audition. It’s amazing how many auditions I’ve been part of, where the people/person that I am working with, won’t even look at me. The lovely people behind the table want to believe that you really know your scene partner, maybe even grew up with them. Ignoring your scene partners and trying to get as much camera time as possible makes you look bad, so at all times, stay close to your scene partners. Not only does it allow for a tighter shot, it will actually look as though you really do like each other. Standing a foot away from your scene partner may be giving them polite personal space, but on the screen it will look as though you think they smell and that there's no connection. Try simply connecting with touch, place your hand on their arm, nudge them, rest your head on their shoulder. The director should never have to tell you to “look at each other.”
2: Stay positive. When people think 'improv', they automatically think they have to find conflict and they tend to turn the scene into a fight with their scene partner. I’ve been in group auditions where the direction is along the lines of, “You’re a family in a kitchen, we are going to watch you interact” and invariably, one person will immediately start barking orders and will start telling people they are doing everything wrong. Negative intentions make you come across as a difficult person, whereas positive choices make you look sharp and ready to build scenes together. For my audition for Tony 'N' Tina’s Wedding, the director, the late Jay Leggett, asked us to act out an improv scene as if we are planning the wedding, he told us specifically to “support each other.” I turned to one improviser and said, “For the colour scheme, I’m thinking red!” and she immediately starting going off on how stupid I was to suggest that, that it’s the colour for whores and why would I dare suggest something like that. I took a beat, then turned to the other scene partner and said, “I’m thinking red.” The director burst out laughing, thanked the negative improviser for her time and let her go, the remaining improvisers, including myself, were hired.
3: Try to get in the last word. As you may or may not know, even when it comes to sides for an audition, when the last line is spoken, they keep the tape rolling. You have an extra chance to make an impression! Some call it the 'button', this is a wonderful opportunity to keep acting until they say “cut.” In improv scenes, that is what we call 'the blow line', it is the final line where the lights would normally come down. 99% of the time, it is followed by uproarious laughter and applause…you want to try to get in that last line! One of the best tricks is, if you have a talkative scene partner, let them rant, they have to run out of air eventually, when they have blasted through every avenue to hog as much time as they can, they will finally acknowledge you and all you have to do is pause and open your mouth. Almost guaranteed you will get a huge laugh, the people at the table have been sitting on the edge of their seats to see what you will come up with. Go for the obvious, throw in something left field, whatever your choice is, it will be remembered and almost guaranteed to be a 'blow line'.
4: Try something new. Typically, the first take is your own vision and then you’ll get another take with notes, this is where the skill of taking direction AND adding something else comes into play. Add a new choice, like a new final line or a spontaneous physical choice. At callbacks, you sometimes do several takes and when that happens, I tend to start adding different lines to keep each take interesting. At one such callback, the final line in the script was, “I don’t want to sound racist but…” so I went in with: “I don’t want to sound racist but..have you ever noticed that Pandas don’t even look Chinese?” I had a very sharp scene partner that was able to react wonderfully to every subsequent take with my new line, for example:
Me: “I don’t want to sound racist but…”
Him: “Oh no, no, don’t do it”
Me: “Have you ever noticed that Americans…”
Him: “Not a race”
Me: “All look like they know where buried treasure is?”
The table was howling after every take and one commented, “I just want to watch this show all day!”
5: Listen! This separates the experts from the amateurs. One trick to get yourself out of your head (as you desperately try to think of something to say), is to pretend that your scene partner received the script ahead of time. If you are completely focused on them and you can see the clues on how the scene is going and if you are reacting to everything they say or do, you will look like you really know what you are doing. You’re an actor, so you have to show feeling and emotion, you have to show a reaction to everything they offer you and they, hopefully in turn, will do the same for you. The scene will be effortless and so much better and in turn, it will be very enjoyable to watch!
ABOUT STEPHANIE HERRERA
Stephanie is a writer, actor, comedian, director, film maker, theatre producer, founder of Durham Improv & Acting Studio (in Durham Region, Ontario), voice over talent, singer, but, more importantly, Stephanie is pure energy. She is the recipient of several grants as well as multiple nominations and awards, Stephanie has worked with people from adults with special needs to some iconic Canadian icons like Patrick McKenna and Colin Mochrie. You can network with Stephanie on Stage 32!
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