From Mick Napier, Director, The Second City Director and Founder and Artistic Director of the Annoyance Theater.
"Next week is Second City’s general auditions. Over 500 people will be auditioning in 4 days. I will run a great many of these auditions, along with my friend Matthew Hovde. It’s one of the scariest auditions in the world, and it got me thinking about people I’ve known, and what it really takes to make it in comedy in the United States through this particular journey… improvisation. I think I know a couple of things. I thought I’d share some thoughts about what to DO in this often confusing world… This is real, not joke…
It doesn’t matter which school of improvisation you go into first or at the same time or whatever. There are sound reasons for any order or any degree of simultaneity.
Don’t be seduced by being on a team. It seems like it’s enough and you are going along just fine. It’s not really enough, and it’s not a mark of evolution, it just seems like it is.
Character work isn’t bad, particularly if you want to do sketch comedy. Don’t listen to false affirmation that character work or broader acting has a lack of integrity, it is just different. And that’s just true. Character range is a skill set that is not attained by continuously denouncing character range. It’s not something you can magically turn on at, say, a Second City audition. Believe you me.
Write. For absolutely no fucking reason, write.
Make it o.k. with yourself that you admit that you would want to be on the mainstage or on a house team or in an Annoyance show or on television or SNL. It really is o.k.
Just don’t be an asshole about it.
You won’t be, anyway. It really is o.k.
Do solo work. Find a way to feature yourself.
One person shows are fucking boring. Find a reason they’re not. Do that.
Don’t wait for stuff. It not only drains your power, but actually has you be perceived as less powerful. You will have plenty of time to wait with great stakes for absolutely nothing when you move to Los Angeles.
DO things here. Get a group. Create videos, write even more.
Here’s two boring things: Headshots. Resumes. And don’t lie. This has happened: “We put this guy (someone holds up headshot) in the ‘yes’ pile. Anybody remember him? No? O.K.” (headshot goes in 'maybe’ or 'no’ pile) Because his headshot didn’t look like him, and his photo ironically worked against him. Look like your headshot, that is what they are for. Look like your headshot. Don’t lie on your resume. Man, you will get caught and you will look like an asshole. And even if you don’t get caught, you are that kind of person.
Talent is everything. Just kidding.
How you are to work with is as important. Your character shows up everywhere. Whether you are at S.C. or Playground or Ale House or a class or Corcoran’s or I.O. or Skybox or Annoyance or in the middle of the ocean:
a. everything counts. b. everyone hears about everything. c. everyone talks about everyone all the time.
Your behavior could affect whether you work here or there for the bad or the good.
Take a break occasionally. From it all. For perspective, sanity, life. You and what you bring to the stage will benefit from your actual life experience. My own life has been a series of wonderful hobbies.
Study acting. You won’t, but you ought to. You won’t because you think you are SO fucking funny, and don’t need it. But you do. You really do. I tell people that, and they say “yeah, yeah, but what do I need to DO to get an edge?” I say it. No one does it. It’s such an easy edge.
Twelve, just like the 12 points of the Scout Law.
Oh well, all of this is true. So there. And that, is as simple, as that."
"To anyone who will ever audition for anything ever, I run the auditions for ComedySportz Chicago and I keep encountering several of the same mistakes, so I've decided to do a quick blast. A list of things that will help you with auditioning for probably anything:
ALWAYS bring a headshot and resume. It's asinine to ask the question "Do I need to bring a headshot or resume?" Even if it's not specifically asked for, still bring it. It's better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it. We use this to know and remember who you are. You want us to ask for your resume and headshot. It means we're interested, so keep us interested.
Please make sure you have your phone number and e-mail on your resume. Please check this. Seriously. Why wouldn't you have this information? If we can't reach you, we won't hire you.
If we ask you for your information, please make sure you write it CORRECTLY. It is not my fault you didn't get my confirmation e-mail because YOU didn't take a few additional seconds to make sure your e-mail address was spelled correctly. I go above and beyond to find out where you messed up your e-mail address but most people don't.
Dress like you're interviewing for a job, because you are.
DO NOT wear flip flops, mini shirts, tank tops, or fancy dresses. Business casual. You will hear all of the auditor's eyes roll when you walk into the room in jean shorts and flip flops.
Do not ask too many questions. If you annoy the audition coordinator with too many questions that you could have found out yourself, then I will begin to believe that I'll have to walk you through everything. Minimize your question asking and do your research before you ask the question. I handle dozens of audition e-mails a day. I try very hard to be kind and helpful but if you keep hounding me about whether you should wear a suit jacket or just a vest, you're wasting my time.
Don't suck up to me. I can't do anything for you. I don't make the decisions. Be personable and nice but don't go on a lengthy, wordy diatribe that paints me more as a 13th century King than a guy who sits behind a computer and types name into an excel sheet. Just be cool and casual but to the point. I try my best for everyone, you're not different.
You probably shouldn't ask me questions about things I've already covered in a scheduling or confirmation e-mail. It means you don't read important e-mails and that this audition doesn't really matter that much to you. Care about what you're doing and take a second more to truly understand THE IMPORTANT INFORMATION BEING GIVEN TO YOU.
DO NOT SKIP YOUR AUDITION WITHOUT CANCELING FIRST.
This is highly unprofessional. 300 people sign up for auditions with dozens on wait list. When you just don't show up, you take a spot away from somebody who probably would have been more dependable and organized. I don't mind you cancelling. I mind you not showing respect and kindness towards others. And I do remember your name.
Be kind to everyone you meet.
Before every slot, I ask our volunteers who check in our auditionees if any one was rude or mean to them. If you're a jerk to someone and I find out about it, then it's the first thing I mention when we discuss you. The moment you walk into our building, you're auditioning, so be a kind soul always. But also lesson for life: The true quality of character is when you're kind to someone who has nothing to offer you.
Make it easy to hire you. If we have an extra hoop that we have to jump through, then you'll become a nuisance. There are too many improvisers who want it just as bad as you do for you to be a nuisance.
I guess the rule of thumb is don't give someone a reason to remember your name before you ever even perform.
Let your audition be the first impression you make. Any other impression you make before then is probably not one you want to make.
These are my casual observations and thoughts. Not all professional theatres may feel the same way I do, but I think generally these points should be taken into consideration for any and all who ever audition for anything. Thanks!"
Here are some additional thoughts of mine.
Your job as an actor is to audition. Get used to it.
Do your best then go home. You have no control over it from that point on.
Auditions are just another chance to perform.
They have a problem: they need actors. You are the solution, you are the actor.
Someone has to get the job, why not you?
Take nothing personally. I've been in auditions where the auditor didn't cast someone because they looked like an ex-wife. I've also been in one where they cast someone because the main auditor didn't want to walk by them everyday and see a disgruntled look.
Make strong choices. A strong choice is better than no choice.
Show them you. Don't try to give them what you think they want.
Just because you're a good improvisor doesn't mean you're right for that particular group or theater. Each group/company has its own style. Sometimes, it's just not a match.
Stop being angry. Start having fun.
Craig Uhlir auditioned for years at Second City and it wasn't until someone told him, "If you're not angry in the audition, you will be cast." He wasn't angry and he was cast.
Jealousy and entitlement do nothing for you.
When you say your name, don't try to be funny. It comes off as desperate. Be honest and your authentic self. Many times I'm thinking "Can I be around this person and they not be "on" all the time.
Don't go by the auditors laughing. Sometimes it's because this is the tenth scene with "Casino" as the suggestion that started with someone pulling a slot machine handle.
THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE. NO ONE WANTS TO SIT THROUGH A BAD IMPROV AUDITION.
Try to get in the first audition group or one of the last. First or last seen. The middle slots tend to have a dip in energy.
Be loud, Command the stage. Know how to walk on a stage.
Basic stage picture. Keep everything downstage, face out to the audience. If you turn your head upstage, that's where the sound will go.
Be familiar with the group and their style of performing. If you can, see a couple of their shows before you audition to know what kind of work they do.
Be excited to be there. Be excited to perform. Auditions are another chance to perform.
Be memorable. Be great.
Strong YES AND right off the bat. Get to the scene quickly.
If the suggestion is a location, don't focus on the location. You don't have to say everything you know about Starbucks because we already know it's in a Starbucks. FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP, EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS. LISTEN, REACT, RESPOND.
What makes this day different?
Live - Laugh - Love.
As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, share your experiences in the comments section below.
You will find hints and suggestions to improve your performance as a troupe or an improvisor. We also cover stories from the field of performing on the stage as well as teaching improv. Sometimes we include case studies of our corporate work to show how improv can boost office productivity and morale.
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