The high ceilings ring with the sound of Dinah Washington’s voice echoing through a cafe in Memphis, Tennessee. You sip your morning latte as you take a glimpse out of the antique windows that surround the building from floor to ceiling. You write poetry and lyrics in your journal while enjoying this local cafe as you do in every city. Your words help you work through the relationships in your life that are open with no label, and allows your writing to express yourself more eloquently. Continuing hobbies and activities outside of the show makes you feel grounded, so you sip your coffee and let the words flow from pen to paper.
The beauty of equity touring is in the schedule that allows you to explore. In the past, you weren’t in a city long enough to fully discover what makes it so wonderful. You research the must see sites nearby, and form a list of activities that will keep you busy each day before the show. Other castmates have done their research as well and plan to join you on a few excursions. Some castmates have toured through this city before, so they know all of the sites they want to revisit, or venture through for the first time. Since you travel to each city on a Monday, you usually take that evening to get groceries for the week in order to save money on some meals, and use Tuesday to rest before soundcheck and opening night. Your personal challenge: how much can you accomplish Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before heading into a five-show weekend?
The thin white curtains can’t hide the radiant sun peering through your hotel windows on a Wednesday morning. While you’d usually find a pitch black room ideal, this week you don’t mind the sun’s assistance to the soothing build of your alarm; you don’t want the daily adventures to take away from your morning writing. You play some new Emily Estefan music, primp for the day, and walk to your Memphis morning hotspot. After completing lyrics to a new song, you walk back to the hotel, and join a group of 13 people to explore Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Even though you hold a tablet connected to headphones that produce the voice of John Stamos as your personal tour guide, your good friend Corrado has taken it upon himself to act as the group’s guide through Graceland. He’s been to Graceland a few times before, and has read many books about Elvis Presley’s life. His wealth of knowledge and ridiculous fun facts resonate through the hallways causing a group of eight people to follow your group of thirteen. These tourists truly believe Corrado has been hired to guide them as he leads you room to room in his all black suit. You and the cast follow and laugh in disbelief. That day you coined the phrase, “Who needs Google when you have Corrado!”
After three hours away from the group, you meet again at the theater. Each lady in the dressing room shares their journey of the day. You and the three ladies at Graceland share your newfound respect for Corrado’s brain with the rest of the women. Laughter rings through the space and follows down the stairs into quick change alley. Throughout the show, you find moments offstage exchanging new inside jokes with the ones you shared your day with. The show continues to fly as the joy of the day soars with you and the cast through every number.
Frank Sinatra floods the cafe this Thursday morning inspiring another lovely lyric session. You clear your mind to prepare yourself for a heavy day at the Lorraine Hotel. The extreme contrast from yesterday’s adventure to today’s walk through racism calls for a morning of mental preparation and a box of tissues. You join your castmates Willie and Jasmin for this next history lesson.
You walk inside the Lorraine Hotel to see the museum informing patrons of the journey from slavery, through segregation, to the day Dr. King was shot. You see a model of the bus Rosa Parks sat on. You make your way to the top of the hotel, as Willie leaves for the day. You and Jasmin are left staring at the inside of the room where Dr. King was shot. You and Jasmin take your time, walking outside and across the street to enter the building the Dr. King’s assassin shot from. You two spent a total of five hours sinking into the horror that still scars our country. You both walk away with a heavy heart, but thankful that you have each other to lean on through the tears.
At half-hour until show, and you find your way to Jasmin’s dressing room. She thanks you again for being with her through the Lorraine Hotel, and invites you to join her, Ariel, and Deborah’s dresser, Roni for high tea at the Peabody Hotel tomorrow afternoon before the show. You’ve never done high tea before, so you say, “Yes, I’d love to,” and continue your pre-show preparation.
For your last free day before the show, you take yourself on a date to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to soak up all of the wonderful sounds Memphis brought to the world. The moving music was the pick me up you needed after yesterday’s excursion. You couldn’t wait to tell the ladies all about it at tea.
You enter the Peabody Hotel and see the famous little birds that waddle across the lobby. You find the other ladies and walk towards your table for tea. You see Roni everyday, but haven’t had the opportunity to fully connect with her. You were unaware of all the tea that would spill from her lips about her history in the industry. She wore a cross that was given to her by her good friends Bebe and Cece Winans. Roni shared stories of her time styling Whitney Houston herself, and the years she spent styling Prince and Sheila E for their biggest concerts. Ending your history week with the history of Roni’s inspiring career was the most uplifting tea Jasmin, Ariel, and I could’ve imagined. We made a pact to never give up on the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
After a Saturday morning of writing before a two-show day, your mind clears in order to mentally prepare your body for an intense four-show weekend. Between your personal rituals and the wonderful moments you’ve shared with many members of your cast, you walk into the dressing room before each performance feeling closer and closer to your cast. Those bonds carry over to interactions onstage, filling each performance with more energy than the one before. Sharing the beauty of each city helps you learn more about your country and makes memories that bring your tour family together.
The crisp sound of paper tearing sends goosebumps up your arms as you unseal an envelop. You gently remove a thin, rectangular piece of paper unveiling your very first AEA check. After only two shows performing as an equity actor, you receive triple the amount of money you’ve made for the same work you’ve been doing for the last seven weeks as a non-union actor. You find Spotify on your phone, and play “Just Got Paid,” dancing and jumping around the ladies dressing room. The two other ladies that received their first union check join you in the celebration. Before you know it, a full ladies room jam becomes your pre-show warm up.
You slush through the snow towards your hotel after a successful third performance as an equity actor. The icy air fighting through your scarf reminds you of your first city on your very first tour.
At nineteen years-old, you layer up to walk through Anchorage, Alaska towards the Atwood Concert Hall to relaunch the national tour of “Shrek the Musical.” When signing your contract as a female swing, no one informed you that you would be the only female swing in the company. The production already toured a year before you joined, and in that year, two female swings split the work it took to memorize eight female ensemble tracks. You worked a two-woman job for the price of one, not knowing what other benefits you could have negotiated. You read and signed your contract without an agent or manager’s protection. If someone told you to negotiate your own room, your own bus seat, and higher pay, you may have been in a better head space to tackle the tricks of being a first time swing. Nine days in New York to learn a total of 34 roles put your passion to the test. As you stare into your dressing room mirror, ready to swing on for the first time, the words your choreographer spoke to you on the last day of rehearsals replay in your head,
“All I want to say is good luck, and I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”
The clanking and chattering in the hotel bar breaks your internal flashback. You kindly ask the bartender for a glass of cabernet and hand him your card to make your first purchase post-equity pay. A castmate sits at the bar enjoying a post-show reward and as he turns to you, you grab your glass of wine and clink glasses in celebration to your milestone. Your castmate’s brief toast sends you off with a smile as you leave the bar and enter the elevator towards the room you call home for a week. You swipe your key, place your wine on the desk to your left, and place your book bag down on the sofa to your right. As you flip on the light switch, the sound of the door closing behind you sends your mind to your contract with “A Chorus Line” at the Riverside Theater in Florida.
The door creaks until it slams shut behind you. As you and the other non-union actors take a seat in the theater’s lobby, the equity members of the Chorus Line cast decide who to appoint to be your equity deputies* for the next six weeks. If any of the non-union actors have comments or concerns throughout the contract, you have to speak up on your own because you don’t have the protection of the union, or a union representative to defend you. So, even though you signed your contract two months ago as a Cut Dancer/ understudy Maggie, when your stage manager says,
“Hey Megan, so we realized we don’t have any of the ladies covering Val, Kristine, or Judy, so can you learn these three in addition to Maggie?”
You simply say, “Yes, of course,” and start memorizing all of the monologues and lyrics you wish you would’ve know about in the two months you had to prepare. You only have ten days to memorize all of the written material and the extensive choreography that compliments the story. This is an incredible regional theater to work for and if you say no, the chances of them calling you “difficult” and never hiring you again are increasingly high. You have an agent now, but the budget for this production won’t allow the company to give you a raise for the extra work you accepted. So, you cash in your non-union check and use the little bit of spare money to walk to the closest Publix to buy a binder, dividers, highlighters, and the other supplies necessary to create what will be your swing bible. The the register beeps in acceptance of you payment.
Your phone dings and snaps you back to reality. Your alert leads you to an email from the Bodyguard stage manager with your anticipated schedule for the upcoming week in Appleton, Wisconsin, and you review her schedule as you run some hot water into the tub. Your mini-celebration continues with a bubble bath to sooth your muscles and compliment your cabernet. You dim the lights, set your calm playlist to shuffle, and sink into your personal sanctuary. You sip your wine as “If I Had a Heart” from “Straight Outta Oz” begins to play. You shut your eyes and take a trip to your bunk on a bus you lived on during your second tour.
You climb to the top bunk of a 12-bunk sleeper bus after another thrilling performance of “Straight Outta Oz” and a two hour meet-and-greet with fans of Todrick Hall, A.K.A. “Toddlerz.” You close the long thin curtain that gives you a piece of privacy to snuggle into your 30” by 75” mattress. The revving engine gently rumbles below, cruising you to sleep while the bus driver transports you and the cast from one state to another. At 11:30am, you wake up to other cast members searching through different compartments of the bus for clean clothes to start their day in. Your Forever 21 bag of clean clothes rests by your feet, so you maneuver your body to reach for the bag without hitting your head. You retrieve the key to open the under body storage compartment of the bus, and carry your garbage bag full of your costumes into the theater hoping you can find an open washer and dryer to clean them. When the production only has three crew members, your list of responsibilities lengthen. You toss your sweat-filled costumes into the washer while starting your makeup to prep for today’s sound check. You search for a convenient area backstage to pre-set your freshly-washed costumes for the ten quick changes rushing you through each performance. The crowd roars and the lights flash one last time, marking your opening and closing performance in Raleigh, North Carolina. You rush to get a good spot in line for the the one shower provided at the venue since meet-and-greet duty doesn’t effect you tonight. Your rumbling stomach leads you to the only food option in town: McDonalds. You and your cast/bus mates continue laughing and goofing around with the leftover energy from tonight’s thrilling performance. At 1:00am, you climb back to the top bunk and drift to sleep on your journey to the next state.
Sara Bareilles’ “The Light” softly plays and opens your eyes to the bubbles fading into your now lukewarm bath. You begin draining the tub and dress into warm pajamas. You stare at yourself in the steaming mirrors and smile. Though your past contracts have been more grueling than your current situation, you remember that each audience doesn’t really know the difference. Every small city you visited on “Shrek” believes they had a Broadway musical in their hometown. Every retired patron in Vero Beach, Florida believed they had some of the best New York City talent Riverside has ever hired, most unaware of your union status. Every Toddler that waited hours in line to see the magic and power of Straight Outta Oz only saw you living the dream with their hero Todrick Hall. Each performance touches the hearts of many, and even changes the lives of those needing somewhere to escape to. The draining non-union work is the only work you’ve ever known, and that’s what will make you an even harder working union actress. You snuggle into your king-sized hotel bed, thankful for finally receiving the payment that fully rewards your work, but even more thankful that you’ve worked so consistently as a performer, union aside.
* Equity Deputy: Elected by the Actors' Equity company members in a show, the Equity Deputy serves as a liaison between the performers and the union.
Your ears continuously crackle and pop as the plane descends into the first tour city. Before you know it, the wheels are rolling on the tarmac in Minneapolis. All you can hear is the clicking of seat belts freeing each passenger and cell phones alerting each person of the phone calls, emails, and texts they’ve missed while up in the air. Your heart flutters with excitement, but you must conserve your energy no matter how much you want to run off the plane and start venturing through this new city. Calm your urges and rest once you reach the hotel.
Your soothing alarm gently wakes you at 9:30am to prepare you for a 12:30pm call for dress rehearsal. You push play on your “calm” playlist, and start a morning routine that you plan to marry on the road. Finding normalcy on tour creates a homey atmosphere in a series of unfamiliar places. Today you create your two show day routine. Dress rehearsal ends just a few hours before the big opening night, so it’s time to fuel up, bundle up, and walk through the freezing winter wonderland towards the Orpheum Theater.
You cross a parking lot that leads you to the stage door. You search for signs that will lead you to the call board. You initial next to your name and follow more signs that lead you to your dressing room. You enter a large space with couches in the center of the room, bordered by each ladies station. Your mirror is topped with a laminated strip of paper that displays your headshot to the left, your name in the middle, and your ensemble number on the right. You notice the foam rollers available for use by the couches, and grab one to begin rolling out your muscles before a double dance day. You flow through a series of other stretches until your stage manager’s voice rings through the dressing room monitors.
“Hey everyone, you have two minutes before our first company meeting. If you haven’t already, start making your way towards the female ensemble dressing room.”
The entire cast gathers around as the stage manager guides you through details for the week. She rattles off a list of scenic and casting changes, showtimes, and other important information crucial to a successful first week in this particular venue. Company management reminds you of tonight’s cast party, and other fun activities available in the area. A few castmates ask questions concerning travel, the venue, and spaces to warm up. The meeting wraps up, and you make your way to the stage.
You retrieve your mic and walk onto the stage for the first time. Every Orpheum Theater across the country holds a magical design that never fails to take your breath away. The band rocks through the monitors, and the sounds of Whitney Houston’s classics fill the empty seats from the orchestra to the balcony. Your heart flutters. Your smile widens. Your eyes slightly swell with tears of joy, but not a single one releases. You inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, focusing your excitement to concentrate on lift call.
You meet your new partner upstage for a lift call before the dress rehearsal. One of the principal actors has to film a TV show that conflicts with opening night. Due to his absence, your regular partner must jump into the absent actor’s role, the onstage male swing bumps up to your partner’s track. The offstage male swing will take over the onstage male swing’s track. Whenever an actor is out of the show, the cast plays a tedious game of musical chairs. Once each understudy or swing reaches their new seat, they must fill each missing puzzle piece as if the final picture had never been dismantled in the first place. Having been a swing before, you support your new partner as much as possible. Having the hardest job has the ability to become overwhelming, so the calmer and more secure he feels, the smoother the show.
After a successful lift call, everyone hits their first position dressed and ready for the top of the show. Company management, important members of the Hennepin Trust, and a photographer shooting press photos fill a few seats in the audience. You hear the bang of the opening gun shot and the yell of your new partner acting as if the Bodyguard just shot him. As the brief opening scene blacks out, your new partner unzips his hoodie, rips off his fake bloody t shirt backed with velcro, and reveals his “Queen of the Night” costume that was dressed under his opening look. He jumps up to the top of the high platform and yells out a cry of profanity.
“Are you ok, Sean?!”
“Yea I’m good.”
The sliders open, the lights flash, and you strut down to the front of the stage. Through the corner of your eye, you see Sean exiting through the wings. Each ensemble member share a brief look of confusion as the second male swing starts dancing in Sean’s place. You let it go and keep moving through the number. You all treat this as a real performance, and don’t allow the audience to know of any problems. The sliders close on the opening number, and everyone runs to their quick change asking for Sean. Two scenes later, the news flows through the grape vine. Sean banged his cheek bone on the top of the platform. He’s on his way to the hospital to get stitches. For the remainder of the day, your partner, Bradford, will continue understudying the actor track, and the other swing, Willie, will replace your injured swing. The chaos of a less than stellar dress rehearsal can only mean opening night will be out of this world— right?
The confetti cannon pops. The crowd stands roaring and clapping as the sliders continue to close. The backstage lights fully brighten and you join a huddle around Willie. He gracefully swung into dress rehearsal, and opening night. As your partner, he lifted you every step of the way. Everyone had a smooth, enjoyable opening night despite the crazy changes. Sean comes backstage from the audience and sings praises to all of the cast, stitches and all. You make your way to the dressing rooms and primp for the first opening party of tour. You bump up the ladies room jams to continue this high energy. Glammed up and ready to go, you and the ladies strut towards the party.
By the time you and the ladies arrive, most of the food has been gobbled up by people outside of the cast. The cast’s stomachs grumble in hunger, so you all nibble on whatever bits and bobs you can find on the half empty trays. The open bar doesn’t support the lack of food. You drink as much as you normally would if your stomach was full. Your empty stomach has nothing to soak up the extra alcohol. As your body tingles, the music gets louder, and the DJ drops dance hits. You join a circle of castmates busting out their go to, offstage dance moves. Cameras flash, people laugh and cheer, and everyone lifts the energy through the roof.
You look around the room of wonderful people, taking a second to reflect on all that you have gained. You remind yourself of today being your first day as a member of the Actors Equity Association (which will bring your first AEA check in two days). You take this moment to celebrate you, and all the work you’ve put in to get to this moment. You start dancing harder as if you just won the Mega Millions. Things may be looking blurry on the outside, but your happiness has never been more clear.
Your soothing alarm gradually rings at 9:30am. What tends to gently wake you has startled you today. You remember dancing with a few castmates by the bar. You vaguely remember gathering your bags and opening night gifts. To your surprise you showered, put on your pajamas, and brushed your teeth. You walk into the bathroom, and find last night’s fake eye lashes on top of the drain in the bath tub. You can’t help but laugh at yourself. The high from all of yesterday’s joy continues to flow throw your body. You may not remember how you got home, but you’ll never forget feeling like a million dollar bill. You couldn’t have asked for a better way to launch this exciting new chapter in your career.
“Five minutes! Five minutes to places!”
Your stage manager makes her announcement as you join the cast in a circle on stage for your pre-show ritual. Everyone puts a hand in the middle. In that moment, seeing the women’s hands reminds you which female is non-union and which one is equity. Equity ladies got manicures on their day off, or they bought a new, festive nail polish for the holidays. Your bare nails match the ladies saving every penny to survive in NYC until the tour launches.
The rush of Act One distracts you from the brief reminders of being close to broke. You sink in your seat in the women’s dressing room as intermission commences. You look to your left and secretly fawn over the fabulous nails attached to the fingers of the equity woman reapplying her lipstick. You look down at your hands and release the quickest sigh. Though the lack of luxury and funds disappoints you, you stay strong. This isn’t the first time your non-union status put you in a financial bind, depriving you of self-reward. You made just as much or less money on the four contracts before The Bodyguard. In preparation for each of these contracts, you worked six jobs at a time in order to save money so you can survive through times like this. You never let your heavy eyes or sore body get in your way. The true reward comes when you step on a stage. The ability to pour your passion into your performance fulfills you more than a spa day.
As your face widens with a smile, a castmate enters the women’s dressing room.
“Hey y’all! I have everyone’s name in a hat for you to pick your Secret Santa! “
He walks over to your station.
“Ready to pick, Fulmer?!”
“No I’m not participating this time. Next year I’m in!”
Your contract continues past Christmas next year and your paycheck will be three times larger than it is now. Next year, someone will receive a series of awesome gifts you’ve gathered. This year, you can enjoy playing elf passing presents from one Secret Santa to another. Your castmates understand. Most of them experienced the non-union hustle for themselves. That understanding and respect brings you closer to your cast.
Your stage manager’s voice projects through the dressing room speakers.
“Places for Act Two!”
You refocus and warm up for salsa. You sit in a split as a revelation hits you in the head. Majority of the audience has zero knowledge of what each performers union status truly means. In their eyes, each person is equal. Obviously, principal roles have a hire status, but you assume they think each ensemble member is paid the same. Does that audience truly understand the struggle of each individual dancing their heart out? Your partner grabs your hand and leads you from your inner rant into your opening position for “I’m Every Woman.”
The confetti cannon pops. Another standing ovation. Another performance down with only 20 days left until you fly to Minneapolis for the launch of the tour. 20 days until you and your castmates stay in a hotel walking distance from the theater rather than commuting two hours via train and van. A van you need to drive in order to put a little more cash into your paycheck. 20 days until you can walk ten minutes and hop into a warm bath filled with lavender epsom salts to heal your aching muscles. You share your thoughts with the other ladies as you change into your everyday clothes.
“This show will feel so much easier when we don’t have to spend 4 hours of our day traveling.”
Alejandra chimes right in. “DUUUUUDE I know! I can’t wait.”
A ping pong of enthusiasm bounces between each lady as each one shares what the launch of the tour means to them. To some, it means paying off their credit card debt. Others will finally be able to pay off their student loans. Two ladies will afford U.S. citizenship. The endless possibilities unravel. Focusing on the future benefits helps the late night commute fly by.
You bundle up in bed and your mind decides to start calculate how you spend the next 20 days in NYC days despite your body’s yearning to shut down. Not participating in Secret Santa allows you to purchase train tickets home for Christmas and after New Years. After Christmas, you have 15 days until you leave for 6 months with no break. Your family will see you in Philly, but you won’t have time to go to your parents house. It’s important to prioritize your time through these transitional moments in life. You re-evaluate relationships running dry. Your ex persistently makes an effort to gain your trust back, but do you really want to spend this pivotal moment of your life on something that was once so toxic? Can he truly promise you that things won’t spiral back to the way they were? Before you start reliving the past, you roll to the right, grab your phone, and ask him to meet you tomorrow to talk.
“Hey, do you have time to meet tomorrow? I think we should talk about where we’re at before I leave for tour.”
“Of course. Let me know when you want me to come over. I love you. Sweet dreams little lady.”
You put your phone down for good, and roll away from it. A good night sleep is top priority.
The buzzer for your apartment echos into your room. Your roommate unlocks the door excited to see his best friend, A.K.A your ex. They catch up for five minutes and then your ex knocks on your door. Despite the time you took to mentally prepare yourself for the emotions that could compromise your decision, you struggle to articulate through the lump in your throat. Tears trickle down your cheeks, but you don’t let them alter your answer.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not in a place where I can give this relationship the attention it needs to in order to function again. When we broke up, it felt like I was giving one hundred and ten percent, and you were giving eighty percent. Now, it feels like we’ve switched places.”
He tries to convince you the relationship is worth fighting for, but you stand your ground. You agree to spend New Years eve together with friends, and to keep in touch on the road. You can stay friends. Sounds simple enough… right? You walk him out of the your apartment, and prep yourself for your one true love: your work.
The confetti cannon pops putting an end to a matinee show, but it’s no ordinary day. Today you received a standing ovation on Christmas Eve. You rush to drive your castmates back to New York, and catch the next train to Trenton, New Jersey. Fortunately, your family lives close enough to the city. You soak up the coquito, and the love of your family. Days like this can make touring difficult, but their pride makes it easier. They see how hard you work. Their understanding and support for what you do gives you the freedom to find success and become a role model for your younger cousins. In a little over a week, you hit the road with your family rooting for you as you hit a new milestone in your career. Your AEA status is so close. The tour launch may be after Christmas, but that your equity card will be the greatest gift of all.
The confetti cannons pop, but nothing releases. Confetti isn’t used during afternoon run throughs. The crew saves the confetti for the final run tonight. Through your peripheral vision, you see your other cast mates dressed in black sequined suits. Sweat trickles from the lace on your wig. You take deep breaths and wipe the sweat off of your forehead. The exhaustion overwhelms your body. The stage manager’s voice fills the theater.
“Alright everybody. Great run of the show. It’s six now. I will see you back on stage at eight for an invited final dress. Have a great dinner!”
You drink some water to re-energize yourself. You take your time getting out of costume. You glance at your phone every few minutes hoping it will light up with your signal.
“Hey Megan, want to come with us to the deli in town?”
“No thanks! I’m gonna grab something in a bit.”
You wait for everyone to leave the theater. You receive a a text from “Sir,” and you make your way to the sushi restaurant in town.
Your mind races with each step. Not only has the show been a lot to handle, but your personal life has been taking some punches. Your ex-boyfriend wants a second chance, and it’s been hard to ignore. You haven’t had the time to figure out how you honestly feel about it. Most women fantasize about the moment their ex apologizes for everything, and begs for a second chance, but is that really what you want right now? Your mind constantly focuses on the show and taking care of your body, do you have time to fix a relationship that has already broken? You just want to sleep when you get home, and work is not the place to analyze your love life. One of the biggest things theater taught you is that no matter what is going on in your life, you leave it at the door before entering the studio, stage door, etc. No one cares if you’re having a bad day, or if your ex hurt your feelings, or if your dog died. Someone in the audience spent good money to see you smile, dance, and sing your heart out.
Now is the time to quiet all of those thoughts, and just enjoy a good meal… and hopefully good company.
You walk through the heated restaurant and meet “Sir” at a table in the back. You overheat in your long sleeve, wool, turtle neck dress from your neck to your knees. Your black winter hat stays on to cover your wig prep. A vent releases warm air above your head, and certainly doesn’t help the nerves running through your veins. You smile through the sweat. “Sir” smiles back with a glimmer in his cool, blue eyes. You take a seat on a cushioned bench as he sits in the wooden chair across from you.
“Thank you for coming to dinner. I wasn’t sure that you would say yes.”
“No need to thank me. I was pleasantly surprised that you asked.”
He asks more about your life outside of work. Before you know it, you are caught in a tennis match of questions. Conversation continues and calms you to a cool. This is easy, it’s honest, and it’s the perfect distraction from all of the stress that surrounds you. After a wonderful 50 minutes, the bill is paid, and you walk half way to the theater together. He stops and turns to you.
“I really enjoyed this time together. You are absolutely lovely and so easy to talk to. I wish we had more time.”
“Me too. This was really nice.”
He seals the evening with an act of endearment, and continues towards the theater. You stay back and watch him walk away. He was the perfect gentleman, he was kind, and he naturally carried himself in a way you’d hoped other men in your life would have. All of that said, you have less than a week before he’s off to another country. You will be touring the U.S. with this show for a year and a half. Whether you see this man again or not, you had a lovely dinner. You learned more about how you deserve to be treated, and you can carry his positivity with you through this new, exciting adventure that awaits you with this production.
You re-enter the theater with the perfect energy to give the invited audience members everything they want to see and more. The girls in the dressing room notice your boost, but don’t question where it came from. Instead, you turn on some music and blast the speakers. You warm up by jumping and dancing around to some old school jams as you sing along to Michael Jackson and Selena Quintanilla. You strut to the stage and arrive on your opening number. The lights black out. The sound effect resembling a gun shot echo through the theater. For the first time, you hear the sound of an audience gasp. Goosebumps raise through your skin.
With each scene, it’s as if those goosebumps never go away. It’s incredible to finally have an audience to feed off of to help drive the energy of the show. If this is what the final dress rehearsal feels like, imagine what opening night will bring. The sliders close as the play off music continues. You faintly hear an echo of applause continuing until the music ends. You hear your director’s voice boom through the monitors on stage.
“Fantastic work everyone. I will wait to give you all notes before the first preview. Enjoy the rest of the night.”
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and you have never been more thankful for every day leading up to now. After a lifetime of training, years of auditioning, 4 weeks of rehearsal, endless hours of tech, dress rehearsals, and previews, you finally open the U.S. premiere of a musical in a Tony Award-winning regional theater. Two bucket list goals check off.
You walk into the dressing room laughing with excitement seeing all of the opening night gifts at your station. Cards, candy, cups, booze, and two bouquets of flowers. One from a friend in L.A., and another from “Sir.” He’s been gone a week already, but he made sure he was here in spirit for opening. Funny enough, your ex is here for opening night. Your dressing roommate, Emily walks over to smell the flowers.
“Your ex better step up his game if he wants a second chance. He better not be empty handed.”
“Oh stop! I don’t care about all of that. I just want to enjoy tonight.”
Your phone lights up and you see a text from your parents.
“Break a leg honey! Love you!”
That’s what matters. You get to share your success with the people who made it all possible. You keep your focus on your parents, and the love and support you receive from your cast and crew.
After another ladies room jam session, you walk onto the stage to join the cast in a circle. Everyone puts a hand in the middle of the circle. Deborah looks around gifting words of encouragement.
“Alright y’all, this is the moment we’ve been working for. Go out there and be fierce. Let’s show them what we came here to do. BG on three. One, two, three…”
The audience roars. People stand clapping and dancing in front of their seats and in the aisles. You scan the crowd to see a complete standing ovation. You have no idea how you got to this moment. The show felt like it was stuck on fast forward. Your heart burst through your blazer as you head back to your dressing room. You exit the stage door in your opening night dress with all of your goodies in hand. Seeing the prideful smiles on your parents’ faces makes every little bit of stress you’ve dealt with worth it. Since you were a child, you’ve fantasized about moments like this. You’ve fantasized about being able to treat your parents to opening night parties with glitz and glam after everything they’ve done for you. You’ve fantasized about making it as a true professional in this industry. For the first time, those fantasies are your reality.
As tech comes to an end, there’s one more piece to the puzzle: you get to record backup vocals that will be used during each performance. Other productions of The Bodyguard have opened in countries like Germany, Korea, and more. In those productions around the world, Bodyguard dancers aren’t singing live while dancing. That’s why the choreography is so high impact. Equity makes the U.S. ensemble sing live, but they still want you to have a light back track as support without having to change the original choreography. You get to record your own track on stage today! The women have an earlier call time since they have the most backup vocals in the show. Off to the van you go!
You take role in your van and notice two ladies missing. One is sick and lost her voice, and another found herself caught up at a doctors appointment after tweaking her knee in tech. You roll on to Papermill to find out another girl is sick as well. All three absent ladies happen to be the three ladies that make up the second soprano section for the ensemble harmonies. You walk across the stage to see an irritated music director.
“Good morning ladies. Thank you for making it in today. As you can see, we’re down an entire section. Megan and Naomi, I’m going to need you two to cover the second soprano line. We will record alto and soprano together, stop, review the second soprano harmonies, and record the same section with you two adding the middle line. Are you both comfortable with that?”
“Of course! We’ll make it work!”
The high school choir nerd in you is geeking out. You’re putting your sight reading skills to the test! For the first time in your professional career, your sight reading comes in handy on the job. You begin singing the middle line of “Queen of the Night” and it flow effortlessly. You and Naomi power through each harmony without having to do more than two takes. The music director smiles. In that moment, everyone is relieved. The energy in the room brightens. Just as we prepare to record the second to last song, the woman that had her doctor appointment enters stage in time to record the last two songs.
“Ladies great job, and Naomi and Megan, thank you for doing double duty. Let’s bring the rest of the cast on stage for ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘Wanna Dance with Somebody.’”
After a successful recording, you’re changing into full costume for “Queen of the Night.” You’re starting the first stumble through with all aspects of the show incorporated. The choreographer, Karen, comes backstage, and lowers your skirt from your waist to your hips so you show off more of your “rocking bod.” She continues down the line of ladies. Your beaded crop top edged in gold grazes your ribcage, and the pad of black feathers on top of your straps lightly tickle your shoulders. To your right, the men are shirtless with black pants, black combat boots, and black and gold ties that run up their arms and around their shoulders. Karen turns to them to make sure each muscle is looking more defined than ever. Deborah struts up a ladder to the top of a platform in her 4 inch heels, black and gold leotard, and funky fo-hawk wig. Karen exits the stage to watch from the audience. Standing in your opening position with your head down, the sound effects echo through the space. The drums cue you to raise your head. Deborah turns her back to the men on the floor in front of her, and trust falls five and a half feet into their arms. Chills run up your spine. For the first time, this show feels alive.
Your first act is a whirlwind. From “Queen of the Night” you quick change into your rehearsal look for “How Will I Know.” The number ends, the sliders close, and you run offstage to change into your look for the “Edison Lounge” where the supporting actress sings a beautiful rendition of “Saving All My Love.” After a seductive stage date, you sneak away hand in hand with your scene partner to change for the “Mayan Club.” You jump off the club platform, and run off to change into your last look of Act One. You channel your inner drunk, college girl, and sing a comedic version of “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” with two other ensemble ladies. You and your college buddies fan girl over the lead actress and are pulled out of the karaoke bar via sliding platforms as “I Have Nothing” plays on.
You change into your yellow, sequined dress for “I’m Every Woman.” Karen comes into the dressing room to look at all of the ladies. Karen, associate choreographer Amy, and the costume team ask you to come with them upstairs to talk about how they would like to alter the costume. You become their human mannequin. There’s a lot of deliberation. Karen needs more input.
“Megan, would you feel comfortable not wearing tights with this dress?”
“I personally have no issue with it, but I know some of the other ladies feel strongly about having tights. I would check in with them as well. What do you think of nude fishnet tights?”
“No, that’s not current. We’ll make something work.”
After finding some common ground, you rush downstairs to sing back up vocals off stage for the opening of Act Two’s “All the Man I Need.”
With only 15 minutes before salsa, you do a few exercises to engage the muscles that will prevent you from re-injuring your groin. Your partner greets you behind the sliders, and before you know it, he’s spinning you like a top downstage right. Pouring sweat, you salsa offstage and get some much needed downtime before the finale. Almost 45 minutes worth. There’s a lot more automation that goes into the end of the show. With having to call “hold” a few times throughout the dress rehearsal, there’s a good chance your downtime can extend.
You take advantage of the mostly empty theater, and watch the rest of Act Two from the audience. Some cast members, Amy, and a few others from the London team join you. Stage management held the show as predicted, so you and the London team teach other your dialects. You share your best Mary Poppins, while Amy performs her best Valley Girl. One of the guys from London asks to take a photo with you, and you start calling him "Sir" as if he’s been knighted. You all exchange social media info until some of the London team has to return to the dress rehearsal. Amy stays with you.
“Have you ever been interested in swinging a show, or being more involved in the choreography side of things? As a Dance Captain or Associate?”
“Yea! I was a swing on my first tour, so it would really depend on the show, but as far as being a dance captain or associate, that’s definitely a goal of mine.”
“Well, I think you’d be perfect for it one day.”
Hearing that boosts your confidence. You’re forming great relationships with cast and crew, despite the chaos of being pulled in so many directions. The team has thrown a lot at you, but it’s because they trust you. They know you can handle extra work, and do it with a smile on your face. You make your way backstage with a second wind of energy to perform through the finale. You groove your way upstage as the sliders close to end the show. On a new high, you return to your dressing room for your final change.
Driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, you receive a text. At the first red light, you glance at your screen. It’s from Sir. Little butterflies fill your stomach, but you’re not quite sure why. You barely know him. As you walk to your subway stop, you finally read his words. He wants to have dinner with you during the dinner break at tomorrow’s dress rehearsal. Your head spins with a new whirlwind of emotions. Knowing this date must to stay under wraps, you agree to a dinner. You don’t want to risk hurting the wonderful relationships you’ve formed with the rest of the creative team, but you also don’t want to miss out on what could be a wonderful evening in the midst of the being tossed around different areas of this production. This could be just what you need to unwind before you start previews of the show.
It’s noon on Tuesday, and you are ready for your next duty. For some extra money in your non-union check, you get to drive Van Number Two. Five days a week you’re responsible for driving a handful of cast members from 38th and 10th to Papermill Playhouse.
You park Van Two and take your first look at the legendary playhouse. Friendly faces welcome you as you walk through the stage door. You turn to your right to sign in on a sheet of paper pinned to the call board. You continue down a small set of steps. On your left, you enter the tiny, tan dressing room that will be your second home for the next six weeks. Seven ladies shoulder to shoulder explore the goody bags placed in front of each mirror. Greeted with free makeup provided by Jay Manuel and other guides of Millburn, NJ provided by Papermill, excitement bubbles in your stomach. Christmas came early in your eyes. You begin testing different lipsticks until you and the cast are called onto stage.
Similar to the first day of rehearsals in NYC, you join a semi-circle with cast mates, and new inviting faces that will be lending their hands in bringing this show to life. After trying to memorize as many names and faces as you can in ten minutes, the real work begins.
“All right everybody, we will be starting at the top of the show for our ‘cue to cue.’ We ask that you be patient, hold your positions as needed, and do not talk unless it is absolutely necessary. This is the time for all of us on the crew to set the show and work through scenic changes. Judson, Bradford, and Matt set up for the opening scene, and my dancers be ready to go into “Queen of the Night.”
You warm up in a cramped space in the hallway behind the stage. In all of your experiences teching a show, you’ve never had to dance full out. This time isn’t really for more rehearsal. It’s for lights/sound to set cues, people on deck to get used to moving set pieces, setting automation cues, and providing props. All of that continues to hold priority, but this creative team wants to take advantage of this time to do some extra rehearsal. They expect you to perform at show level each time the number is run.
After a lift call, you set up for the top of “Queen of the Night.” You dance your way through the first half of the big number. There is a small scene that happens downstage right in the middle of the song. You hold upstage as the crew resets the lights to focus on the actors downstage. You walk back to your opening position, and you start the number once more. Once more turns to twice more. By the fourth time, you finally make it to the end of the song and prepare yourself for the mock quick change, into the rehearsal room scene. Once you make it passed this chunk of the show, you will have quite a bit of downtime.
The creative team took their tough tactics and transferred them into the tech process. Between holding for the crew, and rerunning numbers for the creative team, tech is taking slightly longer than anticipated. It’s the end of the first 10 hour day, and they haven’t even finished the first act yet. The second half of the day has been a nice break for your body, but that means the salsa marathon will have to wait until tomorrow. At 11pm, you drive 45 minutes back to the city, walk ten minutes to the N train, and ride 20 minutes back into Astoria. Another 16 hour day awaits you tomorrow.
Day two of tech hits, and you don’t have much to do. After finishing your bit at the end of act one, there’s still 5 minutes left of the act. You and the ensemble sing offstage at the top of act two, and then there’s more down time before “I’m Every Woman.” To your surprise, the scenes take up most of the ten hour day. With only 30 minutes left, and not having danced all day, you and the cast hope that the team will start with salsa tomorrow. That hope vanishes as your stage manager’s voice rings through the speakers.
“Alright everyone, we’re going to move on to salsa. We are going to get through as much as we possibly can. Dancers, warm up and dance full out.”
You may not have been doing much, but it has been such a long day, and the exhaustion is real. The panic overwhelms you. Doing this number under these conditions can flare your injury. Your heart pounds a little harder. Your hands slightly shake. You breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. You meet your partner upstage behind the sliders.
“It’s ok. I got you. If you need extra support, tell me and we’ll work through it.”
The music starts, and the energy shifts. Everyone’s tense through their opening choreography. Your dance captain is out due to injury. His swing worked through all of the lifts successfully, but you can see the nerves in his eyes as you both move through the dance break. He does such a great job of guiding you, and doesn’t irritate your injury at all. Despite the panic, you all make it through the number, and finish with a sigh of relief. With only fifteen minutes left of the tech day, you can begin to unwind. To your right, you see the swing rubbing his elbow with a look of discomfort. The stage managers voice booms once more.
“Great job everyone. We need you to reset to the top. Get ready to do the number full out once more.”
You look to your right and three of the dancers fume with anger. You’re tired, but at this point, you just want to push through and go home. The choreographer Karen and her associate Amy come backstage. You see the swing approach the two. The three of them continue to walk to where everyone can hear the conversation.
“I’m having a sharp pain in my arm, and it’s starting to go numb. I can go through the number again and be in my spot for lighting purposes, but is it ok if I don’t do the lifts?”
The second swing stands nearby. You see stress overwhelm his face. Karen looks over to him, and then back at the injured swing.
“Nope. Willie you’re broken. Sean you're in.”
“But, I haven’t done a lift call. I don’t feel comfortable doing the lifts at this time either.”
“That’s fine. Just make sure you’re on the number where the lift happens.”
Everyone stands silently as their eyes widen. With only ten minutes left, the new swing tries to think through each number he stands on, the path he takes to get to each number, all of the different choreography, and who he partners with at what time. You wish you could go give Willie a hug, but he’s already cleared the area. You have to get to your opening spot. You don’t have anytime to work through the dance break with Sean.
The music plays once more. Such a melancholy vibe through such an upbeat melody. You notice a bit of chaos, but each dancer supports Sean by gently guiding him into each formation. You meet him for the dance break, and it just doesn’t feel right. A chart pain stabs your groin. It’s not his fault though. You weren’t given the time to work through the movement properly. You salsa through the pain to the end of the number.
“Thank you everyone. We will end here, and pick up where we left off tomorrow. Get home safely, and get some good rest.”
The angered chatter rises as each ensemble member enters the vans. No one wants to end a long tech day on such a low note. Just a few minutes more, and you will be in your bed, icing and reseting for what you hope will be a brighter last tech day. Hopefully, you will have a more positive transition into dress rehearsals.
A week of sitting out of rehearsals feels like a month. It’s like going from starting point guard to bench warmer. You want nothing more than to be in the game. You’ve done your time resting on the sidelines. Week three starts now.
You flow through your pre-rehearsal warmup. A pulling/aching sensation shocks your groin in certain positions, but you are smart about not pushing beyond your current limits. The associate choreographer who has been running every dance rehearsal is understanding, and allows you to mark the moves that put the most strain on your injury. That’s a relief, but nerves rush to your stomach at the thought of how the choreographer may react.
Today is the first day you work with choreographer Karen Bruce. You experienced a taste of what it is like to work with her during auditions, but now it’s the real thing. Until today, Miss Bruce has been in London, where the creative team is from. She’s flown in to guide you all through the rest of rehearsals, and plans to stay until the first preview of the full production. Standing in front of the mirrors at the front of the studio, Karen and the associate choreographer, Amy discuss which dancer follows what track.
“Hello everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing the work Amy has done with you all. We’re going to start by working through the individual rumbas and dance breaks in ‘I’m Every Woman.’ Let’s start with the rumba section with the couple that dances downstage right.”
You have a moment to review your rumba with your partner. He’s been dancing with the female swing until now, so you both take time to reacquaint with each others bodies again. You discovered which muscles you have to engage in order to reduce the risk of adding extra stress on your groin. Those muscles are your focus as you reprogram the movement into your muscle memory. You’re confident in this section. The dance break is what drops your heart into your stomach.
“Can I have the couple that dances upstage right?”
You and your partner walk across the studio and stand in your spot. A number line draws across the front of the studio used as a reference to solidify each formation, or to position each actor accordingly. You look to your left and right. There are lines taped to the floor representing the number of wings, and the amount of room you have in each space. You and your partner stand on number four, at the front edge of wing two, stage right.
Karen watches your rumba, and breaks down the details in the moment. Everyone has different choreography. She directs you and your partner through the intimacy that lives in your specific rumba. She guides you through the movement that breathes, and the movement that needs more attack. Your rumba has a new dynamics, and more ornamentation to implement throughout the piece. This 30-second section happens half way through the number. The real challenge will be applying these directions once you’re out of breath and trying to sing.
Karen proceeds to work through the rest of the rumbas, and eventually gets to your dance break that follows. It’s hard to breathe through the nerves when the lump in your throat won’t let you. Luckily, you trust your partner. You know he will give you what you need to protect your body through the move that lead to your injury.
Your partner lifts you over his shoulder, brings you down, and spins you around. You grab each other’s right hand as if you are shaking hands. He braces himself as your right leg lifts up, and wraps around your arm. He spins you to your left. Your leg lifts as you turn under the handshake hold. Your groin pulses after the turn, but you brace yourself for the final moves of the dance break. You made it through the dance break this time, but that pulse in your groin is telling you not to do that again. You ignore that warning, and try again. Now your groin is angry. You tell Karen about the injury, and again, your eyes widen at her understanding. She directs what she can, and lets you take a moment to rest.
After running through each number numerous times, you pace to the elevator drenched in sweat. You rush three blocks down to teach a zumba class, as you shove a protein bar into your system. Your boss is aware of your injury, so you give your class as much as you can without stressing your groin any further. You push through another hour of cardio, and find a place to grab a bite to eat. A shower and a good night sleep is all that’s left on your to-do list. The next two weeks, A.K.A. the last two weeks, of rehearsal will be the most crucial in order for each number to be as polished and show-ready as possible.
In the two weeks, you’ve managed to fill every moment in time. Physical therapy is necessary for your groin to heal. Depending on your therapist’s schedule, you either receive treatment before rehearsal, speed walk during your lunch break, or you end your day with an hour of PT. You teach two classes a week, and utilize your friend’s gym so that you can continue healing your muscles through a hot tub and cold pool. Every day is a whirlwind, but there’s a newfound excitement in the hustle and bustle.
Additionally, each rehearsal in the last two weeks has grown far more intense. Every time the creative teams asks you all to drill a number they are testing you. Do you have the stamina to give 1,000% to each dance, simultaneously singing your heart out? The creative team will make sure you do. This method of rehearsing affects each performer in different ways. You all to strive for consistency in a professional setting, but not everyone is used to performing such long, high impact numbers so many times in a day. The creative team continuously fills your bodies with a lot of information, but the greatest gift of all is the pressure that leads the cast to grow stronger together.
You stretch in the studio on the penultimate day of the NYC rehearsals. The drilling continues as you all prepare for press day. Deborah Cox and Jasmin Richardson will be singing their duet “Run to You,” and Deborah and dancers will perform “I’m Every Woman” for representatives from Playbill, Theater Mania, Broadway World, and more. Wanting to be fresh for press, you and the other dancers hope for a bit more downtime to preserve energy; the creative team has a different approach.
The creative team has you drill each number. You finish running “I’m Every Woman” for a fourth time, and now there’s a limited amount of time until press arrives. This means you will perform this number for the fifth time in one day. Exhaustion taunts each dancer as everyone prepare to look “show-ready.” A voice echoes to your right.
“Guys we got this.”
You turn to your main salsa partner as he proceeds to share words of encouragement. These words ripple throughout the ensemble. Each dancer shares words that gives you wings to soar through this number one more time. The music starts. The energy lifts. The press loves it. There’s a plague of smiles that infect the entire cast as you fire through this last run. This bond has officially created a tour family, despite the exhaustion. You can all walk away with pride.
Your body’s never felt so good on a Saturday rehearsal. Yesterday’s energy lingers into the last day in the studio. The producers and crew that help bring this show to life arrive at 1pm. They witness the last run through before transferring to Papermill Playhouse to tech the show. You officially learned the ins and outs of this production. You’ve learned more ways to take care of yourself during a strenuous rehearsal process. Best of all, you have a family bond with an encouraging cast to lead each other into a successful run.
1. Mark: To not fully execute the movement
2. Wings: The spaces on the sides of the stage that allow actors to enter and exit the stage.
3. Deborah Cox: Played “Rachel Marron” (principal role) in The Bodyguard First National US Tour.
4. Jasmin Richardson: Played ”Nicki Marron” (supporting actress) in The Bodyguard First National US Tour.
Two and a half months of touring? Check. Almost a month of wedding singing? Check. There is only one week until the “first day of school,” A.K.A. the first rehearsal of your biggest show yet. No better way to celebrate than a lunch at Five Napkin burger, followed by a delicious Schmackary’s cookie.
You take the first mouth-watering bite of a classic chocolate chip cookie when your phone buzzes. You maneuver the chocolate chip chunk into your left cheek, and proceed to answer the call.
“Hi Megan? This is Paul Hardt from Bodyguard Casting. So, I spoke with your choreographer Karen Bruce yesterday, and she wanted me to let the dancers know that they will be wearing revealing costumes. It’s nothing extreme, but your midriff and other parts will be exposed. She wants to make sure you guys do what you need to do to feel comfortable on stage.”
You finish chewing, and swallow what will be your last Schmackary’s bite for a while.
“No worries at all! Can’t wait to get started! Thank you Paul!”
Wow. It was pretty obvious during the audition process that this show will require you to be in top physical shape, but you didn’t expect a phone call with a reminder. You have to make sure you are in your prime inside and out. You have a week to jump start a healthier path. Ready, set, go.
The alarm sounds at 7:30 am. It’s the morning of your first day of school. You primp with a full face of makeup. You look exactly how you did during the audition process. Normally, if you were going to spend 10am-6pm dancing, you wouldn’t want to cake it on so much, but this isn’t any ordinary rehearsal. Slip on those new Nike leggings, zip up that fitted track jacket to show the figure you’re working on, and strut to 42nd Street with a newfound confidence. It’s all in you.
The elevator door opens, and a rush of excited nerves dance through your bloodstream. You’re in the big studios in the middle of Time Square! To your surprise, there’s a pack of press waiting to get the group shot of the original US cast of The Bodyguard First National Tour. After only doing non-union tours, you forget that you have more than 9 days to learn a show. You had no idea the first day of rehearsals was mostly introductions, press, and the first read through of the show. Had you known that, you probably wouldn’t have worn a full on track suit to be photographed in.
After a breakfast spread, a live Facebook video that introduced every individual involved in the production, and a pep talk from the producers, you’re in the heart of the first read through. You spent a good chunk of your childhood jamming to Deborah Cox hits with your big brother. Never did your 7 year-old self ever think you would be sitting in a semi-circle around a piano listening to Miss Cox sing 15 Whitney Houston songs. It’s taking everything in you to hold back the tears of pure joy, wishing your brother was sitting next to you. This is a moment in time you will always remember.
Walking back to the train, you can’t help but smile while reflecting on the end of a breezy, enjoyable first day. It will probably be your last semi-easy day of rehearsal. In one week, you will be learning all of the big dance numbers. Embrace the calm before the storm. Let your body breathe. Get a good night sleep. Tomorrow, you attack “Queen of the Night.”
It’s Friday, and you have learned “Queen of the Night” and “I’m Every Woman” the two biggest numbers in the show. Spanning over four minutes each, they feel like complete marathons. In addition to each number demanding extreme physicality, the ladies sing backup as they flip, twirl, and run across stage. This number includes a lot of new tricks that look amazing, but take a lot of focus from you and your partner. At the end of “Queen of the Night” you are actually sprinting across stage to get into a line with the rest of the ladies to start jumping while singing the chorus of the song. In “I’m Every Woman” you harmonize while being pressed over your partner’s head. Because of this, you both need to build a new level of trust and cooperation to pull these tricks off 8 shows a week.
Some of these tricks are already taking a toll on your body, but you have been diligent about taking care of yourself. You prep for every rehearsal by arriving at least 45 minutes early to do a proper warmup. If you don’t have to teach right after rehearsal, you head to the gym your friend works at to use the hot tub and cold pool. You religiously foam roll, stretch, and do whatever it takes to stay ahead of an injury, or so you think.
It’s Saturday. Your last day of the first week. Tomorrow you get a day to fully heal your body for another week of monster physicality. You continue to stretch 15 minutes before the start of rehearsal. Your leg rests up on the barre and you’re overlooking the heart of Time Square. You feel a slight pain in your groin, but you chalk it up to being sore. You’ve been so great about taking care of yourself. Rub some Tiger Balm on the pain, and push through the last day. You can rest tomorrow.
Standing in front of your partner, you learn the choreography to “How Will I Know.” This choreography is a walk in Central Park compared to the two flashy numbers. You do a body roll that ends in a slight lift of the knee. This move should be one of the simplest moves in this show, but every time you lift your right knee, the pain in your groin gets worse. It’s getting to the point where you feel the pain in every step. Hesitantly, you sit down. You know it’s what’s best for your body. There’s a moment of fear that the creative team might consider replacing you. You take some deep breaths, wipe your face, and continue learning what you can from watching your cast-mates execute every move. At least you’ve learned all of the hard stuff. You can drill these new moves in your own time.
Sunday morning, you limp to the Urgent Care up the street. You sit in the patient seat while the doctor has you execute a series of positions. After testing your range of motion, they’ve concluded that you pulled your groin. You will have to sit out of the entire second week of rehearsals.
This is so embarrassing. Who sits out after the first week?
When you enter the studio on Monday and reveal the diagnosis, your eyes widen at how supportive the creative team and your cast-mates are. The unnecessary pressure you have forced upon your shoulders has lifted. So what if you have to sit out this week? You’ve learned the hard stuff, and you’ve had to learn shows from the back of the studio before. When you swung your first tour, you had 20 minutes of being put into the dance rehearsal with the rest of the cast. Take great notes, do what you can to rest and treat your injury, and think positive thoughts. Your mind has a big influence on your healing process. It really is all in you.
Its been a month since you performed your way through final callbacks. You have a new manager rooting for you, you’ve formed new relationships with big choreographers in the industry, and you are rehearsing for your second tour in LA. It’s a good feeling to have so many positive distractions from not knowing if you got the job.
It’s your first time rehearsing a show in LA. Rehearsals are held at Abby Lee Dance Company Los Angeles. After years of watching “Dance Moms” on the couch, you are now in the room where it happens. It’s a great boost. After being told, “you can’t keep up with LA dancers,” you are proving that you can. You are on a ten-minute break laughing with your new tour family when your phone buzzes. You step away from the group to answer the call.
“Hi, Megan? This is Paul from casting. I’m calling regarding The Bodyguard. Do you have an agent/manager that we can get in contact with?”
“Yes! I’ll send you his email address and phone number now!”
“Great. Thank you, Megan. I’ll be in touch.”
You immediately start jumping around and rolling on the floor. This has to mean you got the job! If you got it, that means you only have a month between closing this tour, and starting rehearsals for The Bodyguard. That is the performers’ DREAM—CONSISTENT WORK. You’ve never known what it feels like to have two jobs lined up one right after the other.
Your new friends notice your sudden outburst of excitement. They ask about the call, and you tell them your theory of having the job. You reiterate that nothing is set in stone. You explain what this opportunity means to you. Most of these dancers don’t do much theater, so you explain what audition life in NYC is like. The more they learn, the more they cheer you on. It’s an amazing feeling to have their support. They’re crossing their fingers for you. As the break ends, you all step back into the studio. There is a lot of choreography to learn in a short amount of time. It’s a new style of dancing for you, so you have to stay extra focused. Regroup, breathe, and stay present.
The next day, you receive a voicemail from your manager.
“Hey Megan! I’m just checking in to see how rehearsals are going. Since you are in LA I wanted to see if you had time to grab lunch or dinner! I’d love to touch base on a few things. Give me a call when you get a chance! Talk soon!”
You hope he’s heard from Paul. Regardless, it’s so refreshing to have a representative that makes time for you. Someone who makes time to discuss the steps to take in order to pursue your dreams. Someone who wants to understand who you are as a performer and person. It’s important to be on the same page. It’s important for you both to want the same things. After all, If you’re not working, no one is making money.
You plan for dinner with Gregg, your manager, after rehearsal tomorrow. Until then, You need to focus on memorizing every step of this new show. Drill the choreography now so you can take a break at dinner tomorrow night.
It’s 6:30 on a Thursday night. You hop in an Uber and head to dinner. When you get to the restaurant, you see your manager. He always has the most welcoming smile when you see him. His positive energy is one of the many reasons you want to work with him. You two grab a table outside and settle into your seats. As you sit across from him, you notice a shift in his smile. His arms hug into his sides as a look of boiling secrecy spreads across his face. Before he even opens his mouth, you prepare for what he’s about to say.
“So, I called you for dinner because we need to discuss some things. You, my dear, have been cast as an Ensemble Member in the First National Tour of The Bodyguard the Musical! YOU DID IT! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Rehearsals will start October 17th…”
Tears of pure joy trickle from the corners of your eyes. There’s this adrenaline shock that almost sends shivers through your body. Your heart feels like a seed that is blooming into the most beautiful red rose. It fills your chest as you begin to sit with the posture of pride. You can still hear the sound of Gregg’s voice as he continues to list all of the wonderful details included on your next big journey. Seeing his smile, and hearing his excitement creates this smile like one of a cartoon character’s that spreads passed it’s cheeks. This is the job you have been waiting for. This job will give you your Equity Card. You will officially be a member of the Actors Equity Association. This means an increase in pay, benefits, better contracts, and so much more.
Absorb it all.
“Gregg, I can’t thank you enough for handling my contract! Real quick, I have to call my parents and tell them the news!’
You call your mom and put the phone on speaker. You make sure your dad is present, and tell them both this life-changing news. You can hear the amount of pride they have bursting through the phone. Hearing this intensifies each emotion currently flowing through your veins. You have been fortunate enough to have parents that encourage you to work towards your goals. There aren’t enough people in this world that look at the arts as a realistic place to get a job. Your parents understand the effort it takes, and the rewards that come with doing what you love.You can’t ask for anything more.
After a positively eventful dinner, you give Gregg the biggest hug, and Uber your way back to your temporary apartment. On the way there, you begin to reflect on the last 4 years. You were a junior in college when you booked your first tour. A 19-years old cast as the only female swing. After 7 months, 80 cities, and 48 one nighters on a crazy roller coaster of a show, you walked away as a 20-year old with many new skills to take back with you to college. You earned your BFA in Musical Theater in only 3 years.This prepared you to do shows at credible, equity Regional Theaters, but you were still a non-union actor. You did double the work for half the pay. The reward was the experience of learning from seasoned professionals, and earning points towards your equity card. You are a proud Equity Membership Candidate who was convinced that she would spend many years working show-after-show to earn each point. 25 points later, you are cast in a show that will be giving you your full membership.
The Bodyguard will rehearse in NYC and open at Papermill Playhouse. The show will sit there for 6 weeks. In that time, you will have to remain a non-union actor, but the very first day the tour officially launches, you will receive your card and the benefits that come with it. Since you will be living in NYC for two months making non-union money, you will probably have to continue teaching a few fitness classes after rehearsal. You have to be smart with your money. Rent isn’t cheap. Continue to budget and save during this tour and the month you will have free before the next round of rehearsals.
You slow down the endless thoughts racing through your mind. You arrive at the apartment. The future thoughts can rest as you reprogram yourself into the now. Do a quick choreography review, shower, and get some rest. You have an entirely different show that you currently need to focus on. You can’t help but think, “Two shows back to back. Wow. It’s shocking how all of your hard work has paid off.” In this moment, you’ve never felt more driven. Tonight, you sleep with pride.
©Megan Elyse Fulmer 2014