The techniques of and experience doing improv can benefit almost everyone, from actors (enhances skills plus it’s a resume credit agents and clients appreciate and/or expect in Chicago), writers (helps spark plot and character ideas) and business people (learn to think on your feet, gain confidence during presentations, work on team building, etc.). I’ve completed several improv training programs and have performed with a variety of groups in assorted venues.
Lately I prefer performing improv over theatre because:
-when improve works, IMO it’s funnier than almost any play or sketch comedy, because the humor is being created in the moment and hasn’t been tweaked and rewritten, with each move and line rehearsed. When it falls flat, audiences tend to be a little more forgiving for the same reasons. (Some audience members have said they’re impressed that we can even stand up there and create characters and scenes on the fly.)
-though improv teams rehearse (to help members work together better, grow as improvisers and learn that venue’s approach), it’s usually only once a week instead of several times a week. There’s nothing to memorize, and you don’t go over the same scenes time and again. You’re always coming up with something new, creating your own scripts.
So many elements go into each scene: individual abilities, knowledge and frame of mind; team synergy; audience mood and knowledge, and the combination of a team’s or venue’s approach and the suggestions received. Add in the usual performance elements of timing, character development, blocking, etc. Suggestions, players and audience need to click.
It’s challenging enough to get that click during a show. Add the pressure of auditioning, knowing you’re being judged, and the stakes ratchet higher. Usually you only get to do one two-person scene and a couple of short montage scenes in an audition. So an improviser can be derailed by a suggestion that doesn’t resonate, a scene partner he or she has never met, or one of those moments where you get stuck in your head and lack ideas. When you audition for a play, commercial or any scripted thing, you should benefit from knowing what you’ll say and rehearsing how.
Most major Chicago improv venues are holding their annual auditions now. There are so many hopefuls that even getting an audition time can be difficult, much less getting cast. iO’s and the Playground’s slots filled way in advance. Another venue said it had 135 auditionees and added nine improvisers to the roster; only three were women.
As with any audition, if you don’t get cast, it’s hard to know if you’re just not good enough that day or in general, or just not what they’re looking for…