Unsolicited Advice About Auditions

by Ben Whitehouse.


Here in New York it’s UCB Harold audition time. It’s the time of year when students gather outside of the UCB training center, in the freezing cold, to sign up for a prized audition slot. So it’s been for thousands of years… As someone who has auditioned before I thought I would share some of my experience with all of you and ask for any advice you might have for anybody else. Comments appreciated!

As a word of caution, I have not ever had a successful Harold audition, nor do I know anything you don’t. I just thought this might serve as healthy inspiration for all of you brave enough to audition.

  1. Relax – I know it’s stressful to perform in front of all the teachers and higher-ups at the school, but remember they want you to succeed and they are on your side. Think of it like performing in front of your friends — friends you don’t usually talk to.
  2. Perform with friends – I have to say that I’ve performed with strangers and friends and performing with friends has been much easier. Since you get to sign up with anyone already down, check for people you would like to perform with. I know where they are coming from and vaguely their playing style. I know we should be able to play with anybody, but if you get called back, chances are you will play with someone you haven’t.
  3. Get there early – I can’t stress this enough. Get to the training center at least 15 minutes before your auditions slot. This will give you enough time to meet the people you will be performing with and get used to the energy of the day. If you rush, you will come in in a fluster and have flustered scenes. Get there early and relax for a second before blowing everybody’s minds.
  4. Warm up – Once you get to the training center you might want to warm up with your group. I would recommend warm-ups that let you see their performance styles like 3 line scenes, or listening/eye contact exercises like swoosh or knife throw. Avoid things like stretch & share as they burn through time and while allow you to learn more about the other performers, but do not warm performance muscles.
  5. Listen – You are going to be nervous, you are going to have a shit load of adrenaline flowing through your veins, and lets face it most of you will be high on life (PCPs) — remember to listen to what your partner is saying. respond to your partner. Keep in mind, that in panic situations your focus will narrow and you will tend to talk about the things rather than your relationship or behavior. Take a deep breath and respond to the last thing said.
  6. And – One of my favorite teachers Christina Gausas always says “An improviser shows their personal style by ‘anding’.” This is extremely true for auditions situations. remember how you “and” is your signature. Only you “and” the way you do, because let’s face it “Yessing” is just agreeing with your partner’s “and.” Be sure to give really jusicy “ands.”
  7. Support – This is totally related to giving juicy “ands”, but remember to support your fellow scene partners in every thing they do. Remember that everything your partners says or does in a scene is BRILLIANT. Take whatever they give you and treat it like gold, because it is. You make yourself look good when you make your scene partners look good.
  8. Wear comfortable clothes – Hey, know that halter top and mini skirt you’ve been dying to wear… well this may not be the time to wear things that restrict your movement (sorry audition proctors). Guys, keep those balls INSIDE your pants (sorry audition proctors).
  9. Have Fun! – If nothing else follow this rule. Anybody worth their weight in salt wants to see what excites you. If you are having a miserable time, chances are everybody is having a miserable time. Do what you would want to see on stage. Keep it fun.
  10. Remember why you do this – Lastly at the end of the day being on a house team, or any place for that matter, is nothing more than an opportunity to perform regularly and not an indication of your worth. Remember that you started performing improv because you loved it, not because you wanted to be on a house team, and continue doing it because you love it, not because you want to be on a house team. Some people  put a lot of undue pressure on themselves thinking that the opportunity is it — a sign off on how worthy you are as an improviser — well let me assure you it isn’t. This is one theater’s opinion and they have very limited space and opportunity – so at the end of the day remember there are tons of places to continue to hone your skills in performance. You, as a performer, are never defined solely on the places you perform, but on the quality of your work. If it doesn’t work out today, no sweat – there will be many more times you can do quality work. (Ahem… indie community… cough… send me an e-mail… cough…)

So those are my thoughts going into this. You are all wonderful performers in your own right and no matter what happens in that room (watch out for shitting yourself) at the end of the day, you are still the performer you were when you walked in. Remember to be yourself and have fun — you earned it.

9 Responses to Unsolicited Advice About Auditions

  1. Curtis Retherford says:

    Nice list, Ben.

    One thing to add:

    I’d rather perform with someone who makes crazy decisions than no decisions at all. If someone does something stupid unexpected, I can deal with it. Standing around looking confused is a lot less exciting for both of us.

  2. Doug says:

    Well put! I’d also add that the chances of getting chosen for a callback and, eventually, for a Harold team are slim and slimmer, respectively. Last year, at least a few hundred people — maybe more! — auditioned and only a tiny percentage made a team. There were even some people who were on Harold teams before who re-auditioned. Yes, there were a lot of changes for Harold night last year, but many of the new teams were created simply by reshuffling existing rosters.

    Having the proper perspective will really help you relax. Knowing that the odds are not in your favor, even if you’re pretty damn talented, is a good thing! It definitely takes the pressure off for me. (Not that I think I’m talented.)

    I look at auditions as simply an experience in and of itself. After all, isn’t improv about staying in the moment and not planning ahead?

    The best advice on auditions comes from a true vet, Peter Gwinn, in this perennial favorite:


  3. Ben Whitehouse says:

    Well said Doug. I, personally, see any audition as a process in and of itself. It is like a performance. Focus on the experience, not on the outcome. If you put too much pressure on yourself you will not be thinking about the scenes in front of you.

  4. Drew says:

    Great advice. Between this and the Peter Gwinn site, it looks like the biggest key is to have fun. I think the second best thing is listening and making your scene partner look good. Set them up to be all stars and I’m sure the UCB powers-that-be will see you’d be a great asset on any team.

  5. SussyB says:

    Good advice, but I have to respectfully disagree with #2 … I’ve auditioned for UCB Harold teams three times (twice in New York, once in L.A.) and was successful two out of those three times. The one time I wasn’t was when I went in with friends. The other two times I had no idea if the people I was starting scenes with were crazy or amazing, so I was way more on my toes. I know you think you’re going to be highly focused in the audition, but sometimes if it’s your friends in there with you, you fall into old habits, or you take for granted that you’re going to have a good scene together.

  6. Hal says:

    I had been meaning to post– I agree with what Sussy said, although I guess it’s different for different people. I can understand why playing with friends would be easier for some people, but not me. I’ve never gotten on a team, but I’ve had better auditions and better luck with callbacks when I went with strangers.

    I think part of it is what she said about being more alert and on your toes. Also, I think I get distracted by thinking about how my friends’ auditions are going, what they think of my scenes, whether I’m making them look bad, etc. Not like my friends are gonna think less of me if I have a shitty audition, but I guess it’s weird to have them there.

    It’s easier for me if it just feels like MY audition, I guess. When I’ve auditioned with strangers and done well, I had no expectations of them, and that sort of freed me up.

    But everyone’s different!

  7. Ben Whitehouse says:

    Sussy and Hal, I can see where you are both coming from on this, but I think knowing people in your slot, not necessarily your indie team mates, gives you a bit more chance at getting on the same page with them. While I do think any time you get to familiar with people and stop listening – you are bound for failure. I myself work much better with improvisers I know. Not friends or people I work with regularly, but people I have talked to at least once outside of classes/shows.

    I am an improviser who likes to read the lay of the land beforehand and while I did audition with two people I knew (unintentionally mind you) I found my most rewarding scene was the one I had actually never worked with before, but had a class with. I knew his playing style and knew that if I listened actively, I would be rewarded with smart, on game gifts.

    I’m not saying you should only work with the people you know, more that I feel comforted knowing there are people on the back line I know have my back.

    This is however not what I wrote, so I guess that’s a problem.