This Sunday brings with it the latest round of Harold Team auditions at iOWest: a day-long process in which recent alumni, ad-hoc student teams, and free agents battle it out for a coveted regular performance slot.
I’ve been there. I’ve run the audition gauntlet three times – the last being almost five years ago when I was put on Trophy Wife. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been put on such a long-running, talented, and tight-knit team. Especially since it means I don’t have to audition again (for now – knock on wood).
I’ve also been on the other side. As a coach, I’ve sat through the seemingly interminable rounds of Harolds and discussions and Harolds and discussions. I’ve watched teams get put together and pulled apart.
And the more time I spend at the theater, the more I see the same behaviors play out around audition time. So I thought I’d take a little time here to pull the curtain back and provide my perspective on this improvisor rite of passage. Take it for what you will.
To me, the most important thing that auditioners should know is this:
I know that sounds reductive and counter-intuitive. And I’m not suggesting your performance has absolutely nothing to do with anything (a bad audition will almost certainly hamper your chances of getting on a team). But with every round of auditions, I see players apply a tremendous amount of undo pressure to themselves and their 20 minute Harold – when in reality, the selection process has so many different factors that your performance is only one small component.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the other elements I’ve seen go into Harold team selection (in order of importance):
This is perhaps the most important element I’ve seen in player selection. James (Grace – the artistic director for you non-natives) really does take the time to think about how a team will function as a whole. Like a fantasy football draft, a majority of the post-callback discussions are devoted to matching players up to create a diverse and viable ensemble. So assuming you’re a competent player but you’re not chosen for a team, it’s probably because the overall mix this round wasn’t quite right.
The sad truth is that there’s only so many performance slots open at a given audition. The auditions are supposed to serve the overall good of the theater. Teams get shuffled around, put together, and broken apart. And sometimes great individual players get lost in that shuffle. I’ve sat through long discussions where one or two really talented people have been on the cusp of getting on a team – if only there was one or two additional open slots. It’s heartbreaking, but it happens.
I often hear the lament of “I didn’t get on a team because James hates me” – especially from repeat auditioners (see more reasons here). And while it’s true that who you are does factor into your selection, thinking that James is going out of his way to keep you from getting on a team is giving both you and him far too much credit.
It’s entirely possible that James doesn’t know who you are. The best way to determine that is to take a look at your role in the iO community. Do you intern? Do you volunteer? Do you do other (i.e. Non-Harold) shows? Have you done The Cagematch or The Lottery or The Jam? I’m not saying you have to be at the theater every night (in fact, as Jill pointed out, you shouldn’t), but the more you show your face around the theater – the more you add to the community – the more likely James will have at least heard of you, and the more likely you’ll stick in his mind as he makes his choices.
Or maybe he really does hate you. I don’t know. Try not to be such a dick.
Similar to contributing to the community, having an ally in the room during the selection process can really help you out. Like I said above, it’s very possible that James isn’t that familiar with you, so having a coach or teacher in the room who knows you and can vouch for your talent can help you get selected. Yes, it’s a little political, but it can work in your favor.
Unless you really suck – in which case having someone in the room who knows the truth might actually hurt you.
This is last on the list because, while important, it’s not as important as you might think. I remember going through auditions and stressing out – wondering “Should I hang back and support? Or should I stand out and try to shine?” Truth is, it doesn’t matter. Just go with the flow of the show. The rest is really out of your hands. Which is exactly why it can all be so frustrating.
There are a few strategies you can implement to increase your chances of selection.
The first strategy is to put together and audition as a fully-formed team. This all-or-nothing scenario is called a “suicide” (though I think it should be called “seppuku“ because it implies more honor). Powerhouse, Sweetness, and Suckerbet were all formed this way (I believe).
My only advice in a suicide scenerio is this: make sure your entire team is on the same page. Decide beforehand if you want to suicide and tell James at the top of your audition. I once went through auditions with a team that said they wanted to suicide, only to watch it become every-man-for-himself once it was clear some of us weren’t going to make it. Not very honorable.
If you don’t have a full team to audition with, you can find out which established teams are looking for new members and lobby them on your own behalf before auditions. Go to a few of their shows to see how they play, and if you like them, tell both their coach and members you’d love to be a part of their team. That way, they’ll know to pay extra attention to your audition. A little gumption never hurt.
Before and after your audition, remember to ask yourself – how much does this all really matter? Sure, we’d all like to have a regular performance slot in which to hone our craft. But sometimes, in the words of Powerhouse’s Jason Frederick “it’s a little too much drama for something I’m not getting paid for.” So try to keep it all in perspective.
Best of luck to all the auditioners this weekend. Please relax, have fun, support each other, and – above all – enjoy yourselves.
Break a leg,
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