Audrey Rapoport—actor, improviser, writer, and teacher—has been called “one of those great, great character actresses” and “uproariously funny.” Audrey is a master of comedic physicality. Whether stealing a scene in a play or bringing quirky characters to life at a story slam, her facial contortions, body language from nuanced to outrageous, and deft vocal modulations drive the public wild. Audrey and I met in the Hudson Valley at a staged reading of Yasmina Reza’s adults-behaving-badly comedy God of Carnage. Audrey cut her acting chops with the Los Angeles–based improv troupe The Groundlings and reveals how that experience shaped her life.
Brent: How has improvisational theater training made you more aware of your surroundings?
Audrey: I went to film school, so my “formal” acting training began at The Groundlings, the world-famous improvisation school in LA. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic foundation. Every actor, indeed every person alive, should take an improv class. I took many. I performed as a member of The Groundlings for many years and today I teach comedy improv at School of Visual Arts and Marymount Manhattan College in NYC.
Brent: You don’t have to sell me on the benefits of improv! It’s boosted my ability to think more creatively and faster on my feet. But you’re the pro. Tell me what it does for you.
Audrey: Improv forces you to be in the moment and to react immediately to what you’re given. You also learn to utilize the eyes in the back of your head, to be aware of everything that everyone is doing, including the audience.
Brent: What about when you’re working with a script?
Audrey: When working with scripted material, whether it be a sketch or a more complex piece, I am a stickler for maintaining the integrity of the words on the page, but life isn’t perfect and shit goes down.
Brent: No question. How do you get back on track if your mind goes blank on a line?
Audrey: At that point, it becomes all about eye contact and breathing. Someone on stage is bound to find the way back in, and then everyone else can follow along.
Brent: Where does memorization fall in your process of learning a character?
Audrey: I prefer to memorize lines later in the game, after a healthy amount of rehearsing. It helps me to first understand the logic of the scene, and then start working on the blocking. Your head’s attached to your body, and your body’s attached to your head, so where one goes, the other follows. I don’t always have that luxury and in some cases a director will ask that actors be off book very early in the process.
Brent: Then what? How do you go about learning the material?
Audrey: In those cases, I just sit down with the script and memorize it a chunk at a time. Then back to the beginning, always adding a bit more. Every time I screw up, I start from the beginning. Sometimes there’s a difficult section, or a series of words that are challenging. I usually use a mnemonic device of the first letter of the words to remember that it’s alphabetical…. Or keep a phrase in the back of my mind.
Brent: For example?
Audrey: Like if I need to remember the line “harried and dramatic,” I will think “Harley Davidson.”
Brent: Great visual!
Audrey: I fear it’s only a matter of time before I blurt out my mnemonic phrase instead of the actual line. But as I said, I like to stick to the script word for word. I despise paraphrasing and working with actors who do that can be very—how can I put this diplomatically….tricky. Let’s go with tricky.
Brent: Ha! You’ve also had parts in soap operas, a very specific genre. That’s something I talked about with the actor Jeremy Davidson. What’s that like for you?
Audrey: Soap operas pose particular challenges, because the dialogue is very repetitive. Each episode is made up of several scenes that are basically the same, but the words change slightly. The blocking has nothing to do with character motivation and everything to do with camera angles.
Brent: That’s certainly a departure from the way things work on stage. So I’m guessing that you stick to exactly what’s in the script.
Audrey: I never feel comfortable paraphrasing when I’m just guesting on a show. I leave that for the regulars. I don’t get mad at them. I get envious, but not mad. I’m not a monster.
Brent: Glad you can let go of your anger! What was one of your favorite roles in a soap opera?
Audrey: One time I played an oncologist, and I had tons of medical jargon to memorize. Every one of my scenes ended with me saying, “We’ll know more after the surgery.”
Brent: Even with that line, you still had to understand the dialogue in order to deliver it with conviction. The stage actress Jenna Gavigan told me that she spent time with the writers to fully understand her lines when she played a geneticist. You must have done something similar.
Audrey: I managed to not butcher the dialogue, but I may have killed the patient. I’m not telling!
Brent: Good thing it’s all just make-believe. No real jury on earth will convict you! Thanks so much for your insights and good humor, Audrey. You are a delight to talk with.
Audrey: Glad I could give you answers that are coherent. Thank you!
Watch Audrey portray a dizzying variety of characters and perform her own short stories on her website.