I’ve usually used the word “justification” to refer to how to explain seemingly incongruent information. I’ve always preferred “motivation” or “objective” in describing character wants, but that starts to sound an awful lot like Acting which us improvisors are pretty scared of. So Justification it is. The problem is that my definition is pretty much how Justification gets treated: It’s an explanation, which is an end, and not an exploration, which is a beginning.
This great paragraph is part of a great discussion on justification.
“There are plenty of others willing to call you a failure. A fool. A loser. A hopeless souse! Don’t you ever say it of yourself. You send out the wrong signal. That is what people pick up. Do you understand? If you care about something fight for it. You hit a wall, push through it. There’s something you need to know about failure, Tintin: You can never let it defeat you.”—Captain Haddock, The Adventures of Tintin (via quote-book)
I know some of you are feeling hurt and upset right now, but I wanted to tell you that I think you’re all amazing. I consider myself blessed to have seen you play and honored to play with you. It’s important to remember that despite how much importance we put on things like auditions, they are not the beginning and end of our careers, or - since we often confuse them - our lives. You love this, so keep loving it. Keep doing it. Hold on to that love. Find new ways to challenge yourself, do good work, and the community will take notice.
You are not done.
Now get out there and fight.
What Lauren said. Very much what Lauren said.
Also, remember that it’s okay to feel your feelings today. You can have rational perspective tomorrow.
I haven’t seen so many “Just relax and breathe” Facebook messages in a very long time, and a third party reading all of this would assume that something very serious, with very high stakes, was happening. That said, I get why everyone is freaking out, because I am too. Especially because (as I mentioned previously), I am performing a play this week, so I haven’t been able to improvise outside of class this week. So am I nervous? Hell yeah.
That said, here are my goals for my audition (which is Saturday, but I’ll post these now because the process starts tomorrow):
1. Make My Scene Partner Look Good- That’s what I want to do and what I want to show. If we think about an audition as an opportunity to show what kind of improviser you are, I want to present myself as a selfless improviser who accepts his scene partner’s moves and makes him look good, by agreeing to what he says and having a reaction it. Built into this idea is the fact that, unless a straight reaction is built into the initiation, I am going to agree hard and respond with a pea-in-a-pod reaction. I seek only to react to the last thing my scene partner said, and have a truthful, intelligent response.
2. Make Big Choices- This goes along with Mick Napier’s idea of taking care of yourself as a way of taking care of your scene partner. If I make a big choice up top (which really is just a specific and explicit emotional reaction) then I am giving a gift to my scene partner. I don’t want to end up in a scene that goes nowhere because no one is adding information, so I will aim to yes-and everything up top in a big way.
3. Commit. Hard.- I am going to step out and be emotionally committed. My goal is to give a shit about my scene partner and about what’s happening onstage. No aloof, detached improv. Instead, compassionate and emotional improv grounded in commitment to the reality of the scene. If I can act my way into the scene, it’ll help me establish a specific relationship with my scene partner, which puts us on the right track. This goes along with what Neil Casey said in my last post.
You’ll notice that there’s a lot of overlap in those three bullets, and I think that’s because all of these things really come from the same place. They’re intertwined, because being a good scene partner necessitates big choices, and big choices necessitate emotional commitment, etc. And I think that’s a good point— we shouldn’t think of good improv as doing all of these separate things well. We boil it down to one thing that can generate all of those important elements. Whether that is possible or will work for everyone, I don’t know. BUT, if I had to mince it into two words, they would be listening and reacting. That’s it. I think that might be good enough. But hell, what do I know?
I want to wish a sincere best of luck to all my friends auditioning tomorrow, and all the people I don’t know who are auditioning tomorrow. There are probably at least a couple hundred people who deserve those 40 or so spots right now, and that means that a couple hundred of us are going to be upset. But we are all lucky enough to be doing something we love in our spare time, and we should try and appreciate it in a vacuum, without need for validation. (That said, I have zero ability to appreciate improv in a vacuum, so if you can, I admire the hell out of you.)
Good night, funny people. Get some sleep.
Written by one of my all-time favorite improvisers.
Must’ve been last February or March, Ragnarock practice Harold at Champions Studios, room #36 (the one with no windows and the sponge-painted landscape on the walls), Erik Dies initiates a second group game based off a detail that came up earlier in the show: “Alright,” he said, “Let’s film this ad for our cock-molding business.” Everyone except Dies immediately breaks. Dies gets angry that we’re all not taking the commercial seriously. He then labels it “Grundle & Grumble’s Cock-Molding Service” and the game basically becomes how none of us, one after another, can stop (real-life) laughing long enough to read the ad copy. I earnestly tried my best to deliver the line “When Bryant Grundle met Greg Grumble and decided to form a cock-molding partnership…” but laughed before I could get out a single word.
Sometimes improv can be about doing scenes that check off all the boxes of all the theory and knowledge we have about this artform, but most of the time it’s just about being in the moment, listening, reacting, and supporting the noble goals of fine businesses like Grundle & Grumbel’s Cock-Molding Service.
First off: I’m in a play this week, so I apologize that my posts are less regular this week.
Second: In class yesterday, we talked a lot about openings, specifically the invocation. One of the things that Neil really tried to hammer home was this idea that an opening doesn’t just give you premises and locations, or actions, or an initiation. A good opening can give you a sort of pre-packaged justification or philosophy that you can then plug in to a scene to give it some life and legs. We can use the sort of greater truths produced in the “Thou Art” and “I Am” portions of the invocation as elements in our scenes— because those will be way more interesting than the nouns and verbs we get out of it.
Basically, instead of using a premise from the opening and then inventing a justification, we could work the other way around- the scene could start (either with something explicitly or inexplicitly from the opening) and then, when it comes time to justify or explore, we can use one of those pre-packaged big ideas from the invocation. Then, we’re using something everyone has already explored, and we are a step ahead in playing it.
I’ll expand on this more, but that’s all I had to say for now.
This is your first Harold Audition as the Artistic Director of UCB Theatre NY. Obviously, you’ve been on the other side of things. Tell us about your approach.
We did an invite audition in October, but you are correct that it is my first time running an open audition. And actually I haven’t been on the other side of things - I was out of town for the first audition I was eligible for, and then I was one of those schmugadoos who was placed on a team between auditions when someone stepped down from a team. I also submitted to be an actor on a Maude Team but wasn’t invited to have an audition, but then was placed on a team when someone stepped down. So I never auditioned for either but was on both. What a jerk!
This blog is mostly supporting the diversity initiative at the UCB. Is there any particular advice you would like to give individuals in this community?
Advice: try to relax, have fun, make your scene partner look good. Make choices that you think are fun, don’t try to do what you imagine the people in the room think the “correct” move is. Anyone reading this has heard this before, and it sounds cliche, but of course there is no secret advice I can give that you haven’t heard before. I could write even less and say this: do your best, that is all you can do. Be realistic - there are hundreds of people auditioning and only a handful will get on. Statistically speaking, the odds are you won’t get on.
Is there anything else you would want to add? Any general advice to improvisers / comedians out there?
I think that for Harold Auditions, as well as anything that you want but for which there is a limited number of slots, you should have the mentality that you are so good that of course it will be given to you, while simultaneously practicing a Buddhist-type detachment that you don’t need this thing for your self worth or happiness in a sort of Orwellian doublethink. We have reached a point as a community that there are more qualified people than we have slots for. Like the space program with astronauts. Them is the breaks. It is both good and bad. I think Harold Night is a great thing, obviously, but I also don’t want to overstate its importance. The UCB4 didn’t wait around to be put on a Chicago theatre’s house team - they formed their own comedy team and worked hard and got a sketch show on TV. Follow their example. Do the work/comedy/art that you want to do with the people you want to do it with. Right now. Don’t wait. Life is short and time goes very fast, especially your mid to late twenties I am finding.
Commitment isn’t just increasing intensity. It is isn’t sticking one emotion and never changing. It’s committing to the moment and scene and your character.
Support isn’t saving a scene/your scene partners. It isn’t jumping in on a scene that you see is fun from the backline and just wanting to share. It’s adding the littlest possible to set the performers in the scene look amazing.
Acting ability/actual acting isn’t unimportant. Acting skills help. Playing believable people, even if they are large characters is plus.
Coming out without a premise isn’t coming out without anything. You have something. The suggestion, the opening, whatever, makes you think of something. It has to. You have a brain. You have emotions.
Object work isn’t superfluous. It is making the inanimate (hell, animate) objects that aren’t actually there exist. If you, as a performer, can’t see them, the audience can’t. If you can see them, hold them, feel them, the audience will too. See commitment.
Agreement doesn’t mean never saying “no.” It means not disagreeing about the reality. Don’t agree to something just to agree with something, especially if it goes against your character. However, if your scene partner suggests asks to do something twice, you better think of a way you can submit and not give up on your character choices. It’s a balancing act.
What do you think about auditioning with friends versus total strangers? Does it hurt more than help to know people you are auditioning with (ie. could it backfire)? On the other hand, not knowing the person you're in a scene with can throw you for a major loop.
Thanks for asking this question, Nicole!
Unfortunately, though, I don’t have a great answer. Either choice can work magically or fail miserably, and all I can say is pick whichever one puts you in the best mindset for the audition.
For what it’s worth, I prefer to audition with strangers… and here’s why!
I never know what to expect, which is something I enjoy with improv.
It brings about a lack of trust in my partner (crazy, right?Although I prefer to think of it as the Annoyance thing of taking care of myself first). I don’t know if the other person can do a scene, so I’m prepared to carry us 100% if I have to. This forces me to make strong, awesome, good improv choices.
There’s at least a 50% chance I’m wrong about my partner, and they surprise me in a fun way.
(Lemme subset this with saying I once auditioned with one of those a crazy wildcards, and our scene was SO GOOD AND SO MUCH FUN that my life was changed forever.)
Anyway, I’m all about being surprised in improv, and when I perform with friends, I kinda know what to expect from them.
But what do I know, though? That familiarity and comfort is part of what made DeCoster so great, and given the chance to audition with Pam or audition with a stranger, I’d choose Pam.
The best audition I’ve ever been to was for the Story Pirates, where a member of the organization led us through a warm-up and then directed the group as we went through how they developed a new show, mostly through improv.
It was very supportive, very fun, very go-with-the-flow and very creative, and even though I didn’t get asked to join, I felt very proud of my performance and thoroughly enjoyed the process. I LOVED it.
Any time you’re put in a creative audition with strangers, it’s gonna be tough and weird, and you have to immediately get on board with your teammates, and not be (as it was so eloquently put) a pompous, self-involved, posturing a-hole.
If you’re not supportive during warm-ups, who’s to say you’ll be supportive in scenes? And who’s to say your teammates will support you?
I have the luck and pleasure of being on a team called STEAK with Jon Monje, Lisa Herring, and Dave Ebert. I can honestly say that I am excited about every single set that we do. I can always feel an enormous potential energy when we step out to get our suggestion; a sense of taking a deep breath, of grinning wide, of winking at each other knowingly.
Our shows are really weird, full of broken rules, and they make us feel like rockstars. It would be easy to generalize our work as having an “Annoyance” flavor to it - taking care of ourselves to take care of the whole. I think the more important thing is that we are having fun! We long ago discarded the notion that we wanted to be a “serious” team, which seems to be a reaction to feeling very workman-like in the other projects we were involved in at the time. In reality, I think we all just wanted to be enjoying ourselves on stage.
So we play each other’s games, and we bring weird props on stage, and we abuse the shit out of our environment. Jon actually stress-tested parts of a theater we recently performed at before our set. We go meta, we outright stop doing improv, we pull out odd adjacent scenes, we leave people on stage doing weird physical shit for a minute and a half.
BUT we commit, we love the group’s ideas, we do not apologize, and we still always listen. Maybe we listen harder because of the curve balls we all know are coming. I don’t feel like I ever have to take care of anybody on STEAK or save any scene. I feel like we all come to kick ass and that’s a wonderfully supportive feeling.
It makes me wonder when I see teams that aren’t having fun playing together:
As improvisers, do we deny ourselves the right to kick ass?