“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.