Failing is fine

This is an old post I wrote on my defunct blog about comedy.

Recently I had an unsuccessful improv audition.

Around 80 improvisors auditioned for 8 slots in one of our local theater’s “Launch Group.” Selection means a period of intensive improv training and coaching followed by a performance every Sunday night for a year. It’s a prestigious and sought after spot, not only because people emerge a year later as seasoned improvisors, but also because it’s a stepping stone in our little scene to more shows and a potential invitation to a resident cast.

I did very well in the initial, closed-door audition and got a call back along with 18 others. We performed in 3 groups in front of a live, sold-out house. Rarely are there actual stakes at an improv show and it showed in the general nervous energy of us improvisors before taking the stage.

It also manifested itself, for me at least, in a more pronounced desire to “do well.” That nagging, background eagerness caused me to try too hard. I didn’t listen well and inserted myself a couple of times when it wasn’t necessary. In other words, I was out there for me and didn’t collaborate nearly as well as I should have.

Overall I’d grade my performance as a B-B+ because I still had some solid moments and scenes. But I wasn’t good enough that the judges had to select me.

They didn’t. And it sucked… for about two hours and sporadic moments after that. Fortunately, I came to terms with the result pretty quickly. But that might not be the case with you. Some people take unsuccessful auditions pretty hard.

Having put a couple weeks distance between the audition, here’s some thoughts, in list form because that’s the only way people can read these days, about what to do after an audition. If I sound a bit authoritative here, keep in mind that this is mostly me imploring myself.

1. It’s Okay!

Really, this is no big deal. You’ve got bigger and better things to worry about. Besides, there’s so many opportunities to perform even in the relatively small market of Detroit.

This is age-old improv advice, but it’s so true: have a life outside improv. What did I do when I found out on Friday at 3:30pm that I wasn’t selected? I turned to my buddy and fellow freelance writer and asked if he wanted to get a drink. We shut our laptops, headed to the bar where I could get my disappointment off my chest, and then moved on to other topics. Later that night, I hung out with other friends, listened to records, and very nearly forgot about my chagrin entirely.

Other things you might to do forget: go for a long walk, watch a movie, write in your journal, meditate. Just do something, anything, but dwell. Which is a great segue into…

2. Don’t be angry. At all.

I didn’t kill at my audition, but even if I had I would have tried my damnedest not to be angry. There’s so many reasons why you might not have been chosen: a strong field, specific chemistry or demographic distribution between the selected improvisors, randomness. I don’t know exactly why I wasn’t selected, but it doesn’t matter. Improv is a subjective thing that’s difficult to judge because it’s so hard to determine what makes a decision right and wrong.

I wasn’t able to watch the other two groups, but from what I heard, they were equally strong. Which means it must have been difficult for the judges to decide. I believe, in our case, that the judges were incredibly impartial. Had they gone on past performances and personal rapport, myself and some others would have had a better chance. But that didn’t influence their decision and I commend them for it.

Finally, congratulate the people who were selected. And try to mean it. I imagined how happy I’d be if I were in their shoes and when I embraced them or shook their hand, I felt a part of their happiness transfer to me. I genuinely cannot wait to see them perform.

3. Reevaluate your relationship to improv

If, despite your best efforts, you’re still upset or even depressed, then I’d recommend taking a break from improv. In my limited experience, I’ve seen people get very attached to improv, which is mostly great. But that can come with a few dangers, one being adopting a results-based approach. Doing improv for validation misses the entire purpose of the act and ultimately leads to more forced performances, as was the case during my audition. The end result of this mindset is less delight when you’re on stage, and more disappointment when you don’t “do well” or get the results you wanted.

In this case, a break is probably in order. Because of my limited experience I’ve never felt this personally, but I’ve heard this advice from veteran improvisors and it’s so intuitive I believe it strongly. You’ll probably come back from your hiatus with an incredible itch to perform and rekindle the pure joy that improv provides.

As for me, I took the audition as an invaluable learning experience. I gave myself some notes, noticed how differently I played during an audition versus a regular show or in class, and vowed to be a better troupe member if I’m in a similar situation again. Since I got over my disappointment quickly, I jumped back into improv quickly. I’m taking classes, I’m performing, and little to no bitterness has colored my improv since.

In conclusion: if possible, act as if the audition is just another show. That applies before, during, and after.

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