You did it. You made it through the first round as a Non-Equity woman at an ECC. A victory, but no need to get comfortable.
You don’t know how many hours you have left today, or how many days will proceed this initial call. You don’t know how many names the creative team kept from groups of dancers before you. This isn’t exclusive yet. There is a lot to prove. Get back into the holding room, go through your binder of music, flip to your “pop/rock” section, and decide which 16/32 bars will fit the style of the show. What song will showcase your vocal abilities? There seems to be about 30 women before you. Drink some water, warm up those vocal chords, and breathe.
As you wait for the monitor to call your name again, the women begin to line up ten at a time. Each woman walks back into the studio, and sings their 30-second solo. Those 30 seconds determine whether or not you move forward in the audition process. You have to show off your range. You have to make sure you are acting, telling the story of the song you selected as you sing. Even before you sing, you must remember to be personable when you enter the room. This may be the first time the casting/creative team hears you speak. This is the team’s moment to find out if you are someone they’re willing to spend 8 hours a day with during the rehearsal process. You know you’re easy to work with, so all you have to do is be yourself. Simple enough…right?
“Next group of ladies to line up and sing will be as followed….”
The monitor calls your name. You’re 8th in line. More waiting. You listen to the women before you. At this point, you see the same ladies at every audition. When there is so much waiting throughout the audition process, there is plenty of time to get to know most of the women you are surrounded by. You listen to your friends, or your audition buddies, sing their hearts out. You share the “break a leg” before they enter, and give them the “get it girl! you sounded great!” when they exit. When you find solid friends at auditions, it’s no longer a cat fight assisted by side eye. You have found a tight-knit group of women that encourage each other to succeed. This business is already hard enough. If you’re not going to get the job, you want to see your friends shine. You have watched them work just as hard as you have. All of our hard work has to pay off for someone, somewhere.
“Megan Elyse Fulmer, you’re next.”
Here we go. Just a couple more steps, and once again, you are in. The door closes behind you, and there are five members of the creative/casting team at the other end of the studio. As they sit behind the table, they’re hoping you’re worth listening to for 30 seconds. The team really does want you to succeed. They want you to be incredible. They want to hire their perfect cast sooner than later. After all, we’re getting close to summer, and the sun is shining. If we’re going to spend 10am-6pm in the studio, we want to already be working on the heart of the show.
You walk over to the pianist they’ve provided to accompany you. You have clearly marked your music. Your markings indicate where you want him to start playing your intro music, where you will start singing, and where you would like to end your cut of the song. You lightly tap your leg and softly sing along, so that he knows at what tempo (how fast, or slow) you would like him to play the song. You don’t want to snap or clap the beat in his face. Again, be personable, not demanding.
“Hi Megan. What will you be singing for us today?” You take a breath and smile. “I will be singing, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt”. The team smiles back. “Great! Whenever you’re ready.”
You take one more breath, you nod at the pianist, and he starts to play. You’re in the moment. You are singing every word as if it were a monologue. It’s as if you are thinking of these words yourself. You are saying each word as if for the very first time. The words fuel your objective within the context of this piece of music. This objective drives your action. The action fills you with emotions. The emotion is controlled enough so that you do not overwhelm the voice. Your sound is clear, and you don’t miss a note.
“Thank you Megan. Beautiful work. Do you have something contrasting? More uptempo?”
You walk back to the piano, and flip through your music. You have memorized every song in your audition binder, so choosing another will be a piece of cake. You just hope it’s what the team had in mind.
“Would, “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King work for you?”.
You reset the tempo, reset where you will start/finish, and you are ready for round two. After getting the first song over with, and feeling some positive energy from the creative team, you get to really let loose, have fun, and just perform! You can’t wait for your next chance to do what you love everyday, and get paid for it! These could be the people that give you that chance. That freedom, that passion, that love you’re feeling as you sing is in their hands.
“Really Great work Megan. Hang outside for a bit, and we’ll let you know if we need anything else from you today.”
Five minutes later, the monitor returns to the holding room.
“Hey ladies, if I call your name, the creative team would like you to come back at 4pm to dance again. You will be joining the men, and you’ll be doing some partner work. When I call your name, let me know you’re still here. If you have any conflicts, and are unable to attend the 4pm call, come see me. Natalie Wills, Michelle Summers, Becca Lee, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
Up at 5:30am. Downtown by 7:00am. Female dancers start at 10:00am. Will you even get seen?
It’s 9:30am on a Wednesday. There are roughly 125 women on the *Non-Equity list. Some of these women may be an *Equity Membership Candidate, but that doesn’t mean anything when you’re all trying to crash the *Equity Chorus Call. At this time, all of the Equity women are strolling into the holding room lining up to take their numbers. You don’t get that luxury when you’re not a member of the *Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). You have to be at the studio by 7:00am if you want a decent number on the Non-Equity list. You know the women fresh out of college, or currently working towards their B.F.A in Musical Theater, started a Non-Equity list at 4:00am. They’ve also put their girlfriend’s names on the list. With that in the back of your mind, you’re hoping to at least be #40 by 7:15am. You hope that whoever is casting/creating the show has additional time to see women who are not yet members of the Actors’ Equity Association. You hope that the monitor overseeing the holding room honors what they call the ‘unofficial’ list—the list you woke up at the crack of dawn to sign up for.
As you primp, stretch, and breathe into your zone, the monitor begins to run down the names on the AEA list. Half of the list is washed away due to no-shows, and a quarter of the names are bumped to the bottom of the list, because they missed their name being called by a minute. After already waiting two-and-a-half hours to find out if you’ll have the chance to dance for a job—you’re in luck. The creative team has decided to see as many Non Union women as possible, AND they are honoring the unofficial list. You will still be #28, and if you’re lucky, there will be no-shows, and you will be seen a little sooner than you anticipated. As hope swirls through your mind, the 10:00am equity group leaves the holding room and enters the audition studio.
Another hour goes by…
You hear the music in the next room, wondering what each step will be. Will there be a lot of turning? Will your shoes be too sticky to do a bunch of turns? Are there high kicks? Are your hamstrings warm enough for that? Is the choreography fast? Are they teaching the choreography at a pace where you can retain each step? Am I toned enough? Am I What They’re Looking For?
The fourth hour hits, and they announce what Non-Equity women will be called in to dance. The last two groups of Equity women were in the audition room longer than the creative team had anticipated. Only 25 Non equity women will be called in to join the last group of Equity dancers. You start to pack your bags because you’re three numbers short, but suddenly, you’re in luck once more. Four women above you are no-shows. You gather your headshot/resume, you stretch out one last time, and do some deep breathing—you’re in.
Once in the room, the nerves flutter. You hear the wisdom of your college professors ringing in your ears, “You are all soup. You’re Campbell, she’s Progresso, and that other girl is Lipton. You all have your brand. What is your secret ingredient that will make me buy your soup?” What can you bring into the room that the other 250 women can’t? Regardless, when’s the last time you actually performed on stage? What was your last contract? Has it been a while? Well guess what, this creative team, and these casting directors are your audience. This is just another chance to perform. Worse comes to worse, you got a free dance class this morning. You don’t get the Equity discount at Broadway Dance Center. $20 a class adds up. You’re happy you took advantage of all those dance classes in college.
After shaking off your first wave of nerves, you get back in the zone. You’re focused on retaining every move. You absorb as many details as you can. You listen to every bit of information the Assistant Choreographer is giving to you. You get as close as you can to looking “show ready”. After thirty minutes of learning a two-minute dance combination, they say, “You have four, eight counts of improv.” You get about 30-seconds to freestyle, and bring your personal flavor to the combination. You can do what you want, but keep this in mind: For this show, the creative team has asked that you bring an edge to whatever you do. They want women who can dance just as hard as the men. They don’t want you to try to be sexy. The sexy is in the power—think Beyoncé, not Britney.
It’s go time. They will call four people at a time. Each group of four has two chances to nail the choreography. You close your eyes and review each step, as the groups before you perform. You may take a peak to see what other people do. You see some things you like, and some moves you don’t. You take mental notes of what seems to work, and what doesn’t. Luckily, you’ve had a bit of time to get grounded before putting yourself out there. You have some tricks up your sleeve to show you can dance next to the guys. You know you have the power this team is looking for.
Here we go!
After nailing each step, you wait. You’re feeling great, but you know not to get your hopes up. This has happened before. You’ve been in rooms where you know you’ve rocked the audition, but you learn you look too much like the director’s ex-girlfriend, so you won’t be going any further in the audition process. The director doesn’t need that constant reminder of the woman who broke his heart. Whether you are two inches too short, you have the wrong hair color, or you don’t have enough Instagram followers, you’re prepared to say, “thank you” and gracefully exit the room. 8/10 times, you didn’t get the job for reasons you can’t control. You can find peace in that.
As the creative/casting team deliberates in the far corner of the room, the rest of you talk amongst yourselves. Banter rooted in butterflies. Two minutes to pretend you’re having a casual conversation on the N, Q, R. The banter breaks, and silence stirs. “Thank you to everyone who has given up their morning to dance for us. If we call your name, you will be asked to stay and sing a 16 bar cut of a pop/rock song. If your name is not called, again, we thank you for your time.”
“Julia Brooks, Lauren Strauss, Amanda Lee Tucker, Ashley Marx, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
* Actors’ Equity Association (AEA): The labor union representing American Actors and Stage Managers in the theatre.
* Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): The third way one gets an equity card is through the "Equity Membership Candidate Program". In this program, actors are allowed to work in Equity productions as credit towards eventual membership. For each week you perform under an Equity contract, you earn 1 point. You need 25 points to earn full membership into the Actors Equity Association.
* Equity Chorus Call (ECC): An open call for dancers, or singers, that allows Equity actors to audition for the chorus of a production.
* Non-Equity (Non-union): A performer who is not yet a member, or candidate, of AEA.