Improvise To Win More Auditions

Published: 25th July 2009
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Personally, I believe good improvisation skills are one of the greatest assets an actor can posses, regardless of whether you are doing TV commercials, film, TV or theatre. I've heard it said that up to 50% of auditions will require some form of improvisation. Frankly, I think the figure is higher. Actually, the entire subject of improvisation probably requires a separate book on its own, so we are only going to touch on some basic ideas here.

Improvisation and good acting is often organic and will only occur if the circumstances allow for it. There is definitely some thought that must go into improvising (thus it's not guessed, but more based on instinct). Basically it's your ability to use your creative imagination and trust your "gut".

I recall vividly a particular audition where along with some other actors we (a family) were meant to be enjoying a well known fast food brand at the park on a sunny day. The casting director gave us very little to work with and asked us to just pretend to have a good time eating our food at the park. We were provided some bread pieces to represent the fast food brand. There was no dialogue, just pure acting (or real life scenario). Suddenly one of the other actors started throwing small bread pieces onto the floor as if they were feeding the ducks at the park (of course there were no ducks). Now, this was not in the script or on the storyboard, however it quickly gave us and the viewing audience an immediate connection to something we might all do when at the park. It also gave us (the actors) some action to do, rather than just sitting starting at one another eating our food. It was brilliant improvisation and there was no direction from the casting director to take that action.

Afterwards, the actor who had instigated the improvisation, apologized to the casting director for making a mess on the floor with the bread crumbs. The casting director said; "Don't worry about it. I love it when actors take initiative and make the audition their own. It was great!"

I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Never relax and just do what probably every other actor is doing. Always be thinking about ways in which you can improvise a scene to "make it your own". What can you add to the audition that will set you apart from all the other actors performing the same audition? Now, I don't recommend you try to make major changes to the story or the copy. You really just want to always be aware of opportunities to add your little point of difference and make a scene come alive to suit you and your personality.

Often times you may have a Casting Director say something like, "Don't worry about the copy just improvise this scene." This is where studying the copy (script) in advance without trying to memorize the lines will be extremely beneficial. If you know what is going on in the scene and the objectives (more info following), then you should have no problem improvising. Be very careful not to try and over think it trying to say the perfect line. It's not about how clever you can be or how extensive your vocabulary is. It's about where your improvisation can take the character and the scene. Remember, the casting director and those viewing the tape later don't care as much about the words as they do about you and the image you portray in the scene.

If you are required to improvise with another actor, then there are some simple guidelines you should stick to in order to ensure the scene moves along as seamlessly as possible with the least amount of awkwardness, discomfort or silence.

1. Listen - The most important thing you can do is LISTEN to what the other actor is saying. Do not try to think too far ahead about what you are going to say next, as it may have no relevance to what the other actor has just said and will stop or slow the scene.

2. Don't ask questions - Firstly if you ask a closed question, you will mostly likely receive a quick answer which doesn't allow the scene to progress. You will then be forced to either ask another question or respond in some manner to the other actor's response. Secondly, by asking a question, you are forcing the other actor to have to think about an answer which may take so long that there will be an awkward silence in the scene.

3. Don't judge or put limitations on the situation - Basically, allow anything to go. There is no reality in improvisation (this is acting!). If the other actor were to state something like they just jumped off the Empire State building and survived, don't then tell them it would be impossible, they would be dead. This would cause some discomfort with the other actor, probably kill the scene and would not help either of you.

4. Constantly build on the situation - This is a continuation to the above rule. You want to respond to whatever they have just told you regardless of how crazy it might sound. For example your response here might be something like; "Wow! That must have been some amazing experience. I wish I had the guts to try something like that. I only jump from speeding trains." You have now just opened the conversation up for the other actor to take it wherever they wish to take it."

5. Remember the objective - If there is one, you always want to have the scene objective in the back of your mind, thus you are able to steer the improvisation more or less in the right direction. It may not always end up exactly where it was meant to go, however at least there is less likelihood of it wandering too far off course.

To finish off, I would strongly suggest you take some improvisation workshops and/or acting classes with an emphasis on improvisation. You will never regret the experience and any expense will come back to you in bucket loads. Once again, the more you practice improvising, the better you will become at it and the more successful you will be in ALL of your auditions.

© Stefan J Reynolds -

Stefan J. Reynolds is an accomplished actor, acting teacher, author and film maker. Stefan is committed to assisting actors and amateur film makers to improve their craft, accomplish more and achieve greater success. To discover more, visit Stefan's blog...

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