Posts Tagged ‘audition’


July 31, 2009


I drove to the Groundlings theatre on Melrose, just west of La Brea.  My insouciance (take THAT GRE) from earlier in the week had been replaced by a very petite boulder in my stomach, about the size of a peach—the realization that I might be getting myself into something for which I was wholly unprepared. 

That feeling didn’t go away when I got to the lobby of the theatre.  Creating a kind of thespians tableaux, the foyer was replete with good-looking PROFESSIONAL actors who were waiting to be called into the theater.  Some stood, some sat, and one did circles in his wheelchair. They mumbled lines to themselves from the scripts they had in clear view, a sign to the casual observer they were actors and not Starbucks baristas.  Each held an ACTING résumé, conveniently located on the flipside of an 8″ x 11” glossy photo which featured them BriteSmile®ing eerily at you. 

Stuffing the Rite-Aid envelope of photos and my professional résumé a little deeper into my purse, I practiced breathing exercises to get rid of the peach in my stomach that had turned into a grapefruit.  A frosty-tipped blond with smart girl glasses and an “I heart unique corns” t-shirt pushed through the theatre doors and asked us all to come into the inner sanctum.  I had envisioned some kind of dance studio set-up for the audition, like in American Idol, with a ballet barre in the back and judges behind a foldable table with foldable chairs.  The instructions didn’t say we would be performing on the Groundlings stage. 

 After collecting our résumés, along with mine and the guy with the wheelchair’s 3 x 5 photos, she (let’s call her Evelyn to protect the innocent) told us a little bit about the class.   “This is really a class for professional actors.  Everyone who goes through the Groundlings program starts here.  If you aren’t a professional actor, or have limited improv experience, you may find that the Groundlings extension program is more for you.  You can find people from all walks of life in that class—lawyers, 40-year-old housewives.”  (OUCH)

Evelyn went on but I stopped paying attention after the 40-year-old housewives comment.  I definitely had some things working against me from the get go.  She asked us on stage to do some warm up drills and told us that in improvisation, it’s important to do everything big.  She said something next about a lot of clapping and enthusiasm and supporting each other mumbo jumbo.

Evelyn asked us to form a circle and say our name and why we were here today.  I thought it might work to my advantage to stand out from the actors. So when it got to my turn, after numerous people saying they thought they were funny, and all their friends told them so, and they were actors blah, blah, blah, I said, “I don’t really have great ambitions.  I was recently rated least funny member of my family and I just want to beat out my seven-year-old nephew. I don’t need to be funny to the world, just a few people.” 

 Well that got a laugh.  And rousing support from the actors. 

“Good for you! Way to go!” My own support choir, albeit a little patronizing.

 Evelyn said, “Well, it’s not a bad thing to have specific goals.”

 I loved that Evelyn; she was very good at finding the right words. 

 The next drill was a round-robin where Evelyn would give us an emotion and we had to say “YES!” and clap at someone else, who then followed.  This was exhausting.  Every actor tried to outdo each other in cleverness, animation, and voice pitch, while remembering to clap at someone else.  Honestly, I was spending so much time trying to think of how to creatively say “Yes!” while looking angry, shy, flirty, and ditzy, and then do it a different way the next time, I kept forgetting to clap.  Evelyn had to remind me more than once to actually clap AT someone, so they knew who was next. 

Following the “emotion drill,” she started a sentence and then we had to complete it, one word at a time.  Let’s just say it messes up the whole group when you throw out a word like gargoyles.  I felt bad about my word choices, and I have no idea why gargoyles came to mind, I don’t even like them.

This was about the time my snickers bar started failing me.  All that enthusiasm I had to provide in the drills, combined with the nervous energy, just burned that sucker away.  The hardest drill was next—improvisation on stage with a partner.  I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say it could have gone worse, I was the last one to go.  Evelyn actually forgot me because she lost my 3 x 5 picture in the stack of photos she was using to make notes.  She had coached other people on no bathroom humor, always say “Yes, and”, use action words to keep the story going, don’t get into a fight, and let the audience know where you are.  Oh and most important, move your hands to mime action.  Seriously, other than the bathroom humor advice, she called me out on pretty much everything from the list. 

Scene 1“mother with son packing for college.”  I asked Evelyn who the mother was and who the son was but she didn’t think I was funny, or she just thought I was an idiot.  Scene began, my partner started folding pretend clothes into a pretend suitcase.  I started getting on my fake son’s case about how he was packing (no negativity).  I asked him why he was doing it that way (no questions) while holding one hand locked on my hip and my finger at my lips the whole time (move on the stage and mime.)  Scene over.

Scene 2  “lieutenant and a sergeant and one was being decorated.” Evelyn reminded me not to be negative or get into fights and remember to keep the action going with movement and “Yes, and.”  I went into outer space at that point, I had nothing.  All I could think of was to hold a pretend gun, so I mimed a bayonet and pretty much just said “Yes, and” whenever he asked me anything.  I finally came to and all I could think of was dancing poodles, which really changed the scene around in a weird way.  At that point, my supportive choir in the audience went completely mute. 

The final drill I actually did quite well on, but I don’t think it was the make or break moment in determining my future with the Groundlings.  We had to quickly make up names for toe-nail polish “Black Death”, lost Beatle’s songs “Yellow Brick Rogue”, children’s game “I’m a Barista,” etc.  I was a finalist in the sudden death match.

Evelyn concluded the audition by thanking us for coming, (don’t let the door hit you in the behind).  I decided not to give her my professional résumé.  I’d just get docked points for total cluelessness. 

Leaving the theatre, I knew I would likely not be coming back anytime soon.  I think a number of us knew that.  But I was glad I did it, if not to get funnier, then to say that I had performed for a select audience on the Groundlings stage.  If you know me well, I promise you, that’s funny.  Right?



July 30, 2009


As someone who is inherently competitive, it’s very frustrating being a member of a family that excels in something at which you are not the strongest.  My family is funny.  Or as they will now be known henceforth —that family of funny wannabes.  I’m distancing myself from them after this experience. 

Tomorrow at 2 PM, I will be told via email if I made it into the Groundlings Basic One Improv Class.  Everyone who has been through that system starts at this level—Will Ferrell, Phil Hartmann, and thousands of other wannabes.  After today’s audition, I’m pretty confident in saying I don’t have a snowball’s chance in ‘H E double hockey sticks’ to get into this class. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You’re probably asking ‘why pray tell would you ever want to go through a comedy improvisation class with the Groundlings?’  Blame it on my brother-in-law.

Last week, he and I were having a perfectly pleasant phone conversation, nephews, work, vacation—then we segued into the subject of funny.  I made the mistake of asking him to rank each family member by funniness.  We got to me and he avoided the question by turning it into a complicated meter system where I ended up somewhere in the slightly humourous range, nowhere near funny. 

“I disagree with your evaluation of my funniness.  I’ve been told by many people that I’m funny but it’s a more dry, ironic wit,” I said.

He paused, actually guffawed.  “Really?  I’ll give you this, you’re funnier on paper than in person.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, appalled. “That I have to think things through because I’m so mentally slow?” 

“You try too hard, you’re too studied.  Like your dad.  But he’s still funnier than you.”

My dad!  Daddy is still using the same joke from twenty years ago after he gets the bill at a restaurant, ‘Whoa, hold on, can someone get me a phone?, because that looks more like a phone number than a bill.’  Anyhoo, my brother-in-law and I discussed how I could get funnier, and he mentioned  me working on my story delivery.  He noted that work friends ASK him to tell funny stories and do impressions.  (Personally, I think my brother-in-law has way too much time on his hands at work and should be focusing on bringing home more bacon.  I’m just saying.) 

After the conversation, I was boiling, so I did what I do whenever I’m told I’m not good at something.  I found a class.  I really wanted to show him that if I focused, like with sailing, sea-kayaking, moutaineering, social psychology, Indian cuisine, Spanish, French, and creative writing, I could and WOULD get better.  And that’s when it appeared on screen…The Groundlings…my personal great white hope. 

The instructions on the website for the Groundlings classes stipulated that everyone had to audition.  I had acted in college and high school, and I had also done improv in drama class.  Piece of cake.  This puppy would be a no-brainer.  The instructions did mention the requirement of a photo and resumé, but said a head shot wasn’t necessary.  No sweat, I had just taken some great photos for my old profile a year ago, and I did have a professional resumé. 

Audition day arrived.  (Cue the foreboding music.)  I was starting to get nervous that morning, and wondered if I was truly suffering from some 40-year-old life melt down.  But I was determined.  Since he got me into this mess, I called my brother-in-law to work me through it.  He suggested perhaps I needed some “back-up material,” in case I went blank. 

“Have some good come backs.  Like maybe with different accents to show your range.  Spanish accents can be funny,” he noted. 

“Yeah, I don’t do accents.”  I said. ‘What about comeback lines that have already worked.  Like on sitcoms.  ‘What you talkin’ about Willis?’ from Different Strokes or something from SNL that a comedian would appreciate.  If I throw enough at them—that could be the joke.”

“Yes, you doing a 5-year-old little kid from an eighties television show, that might be retro, but will wear thin, and you don’t sound like Gary Coleman at all.” 

“Well, hopefully no one is particularly good, I mean it’s auditioning for Basic One, these aren’t professionals.”

At the end of the call, he wished me good luck and I went off to Rite-Aid to process my 3 x 5 photos.  As audition time rolled around, which was also lunch time, I raced out of the Pacific Design Center, only having time to print out my resume, and grab a snickers from the vending machine for lunch.  I told myself this whole audition thing was just a formality.  I’d ace this.  And maybe I’d get extra points for working at an entertainment PR firm.  It was obviously in my blood.