Your 3:30am alarm goes off. Yesterday was a blur. The audition hangover is real. You can’t afford a rest day after missing a shift for the initial audition. Put a smile on, shove your headphones in, and hop on the train from Astoria to the Upper West Side. Someone has to get the fitness center open by 5:30am.
It’s 11:00am and your shift ends. Luckily, you’ve had work to distract you from the ongoing ‘what-ifs’ dancing through your mind. Now it’s prime time. Your phone could buzz at any moment saying you have a call back. In your daydreams, you are swiping right to answer the call saying you got the job. If you receive a call, you know where you stand.
At this point, you have grown accustom to never hearing anything from anyone. You have to forget about all the work you put into each audition. In three months Playbill will release an article announcing the full cast of the next big show. In reality, you have nothing to lose. Your agent just dropped you. They told you that “your dancing is a 7 and it needs to be a 10. You won’t be able to keep up with the LA dancers.” They said some big casting teams in NYC don’t want to bring you in for any new auditions. When you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.
Your phone rings.
“Hi, Megan? Hi this is Paul calling on behalf of The Bodyguard. We’d like you to come back tomorrow at 11am for final callbacks. Are you available?”
“Absolutely! Thank you so much. I will see you tomorrow!”
You immediately start mentally reviewing all of the choreography you’ve learned while you race towards the N train. In the midst of the excitement you call your mom to tell her the good news. You are pretty intuitive when it comes to knowing where you stand during an audition process. You can’t ignore that feeling of having the job in the bag, but again, you never know what can happen. Sometimes you are just not what they want or need for reasons you cannot control.
Now time to race home, teach your evening Hip Hop Cardio Class, get someone to cover half of your morning shift, and rest up for tomorrow.
3:30am déjà vu. You still have to go in to work until 10am. Luckily, you are up early enough to get to the gym and use the studio mirrors to do your audition makeup before your shift. On a normal day, you would never wear so much make up so early in the morning. When you are rocking a full face at 5:30 am, most of the members at the fitness center know there is an audition you have prepped for. They know your dream, and they support it. They are your cheerleaders. It is the perfect boost before the big day.
10am you rush downtown. You are at Pearl Studios by 10:30. You are warm from the race to arrive on time, so you immediately start stretching. You are surrounded by the typical audition circles: You have the few that seem to be giving themselves a ballet class in the corner; the few ladies at the most convenient outlet to curl their hair; the few beside them doing their makeup; the clump of people happily stretching amongst friends; and the circle boasting their latest addition to their resume playing “who knows who” in the industry. Each group shares their moment of speculation of what’s to come in this audition process.
The monitor enters the holding room.
“Hey everyone! Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We will start with everyone coming in to dance ‘Queen of the Night’. Ladies in heels, Men in sneakers. I’ll be back in 5 to call everyone into the studio.”
The speculation sizzles, and everyone properly preps for round 4. Most groups start reviewing together one last time. The men begin to drill together since their choreography is slightly different from the women.
“Alright everybody, the team is ready for you to come into the studio.”
The clicking heels and squeaking sneakers enter the studio— a familiar sound. A brief review is followed by the grouping of names. This is everything you have already done with less bodies surrounding you. You know all too well that this day will be an exact replica of the first audition day. Same content with more focus on each individual.
You only have two chances to prove that you deserve to dance in the final round. As you dance to “Queen of the Night,” you embody the queen in you. You don’t look like anyone else around you. The choreographer said she didn’t want cookie cutter musical theater dancers. She wants strong individual dancers. Your luck is giving you a leg up. Although this feels incredible, you can’t help but think, “Am I what they want? Am I what they need?”
You push down those thoughts and finish with a bang in the last group of women.
“Thank you ladies. Men your turn— Shirts off.”
You’re glad you’re not them. The creative team is emphasizing the importance of a strong physique. Each man has to be more chiseled than the next. It’s obvious they expect the same from the women, but they are more sensitive to how that would impact them. It’s difficult to be gentle to those who don’t fit a mold specific to a show. Those who have been properly trained to handle such pressure do a better job of dealing with such matters, but actors are human. You have to learn to love yourself harder than anyone else can.
“Amazing work everyone. Unfortunately, we can not keep all of you. We will be making one last cut. Women, if we call your name you will need to sing once more. Men, if I call your name we will give you until the women are finished singing to rest. Get ready to do the salsa number you learned the other day. Naomi Walley, Gina Moore, Ashley Bell, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
Your smile brightens. Your heart is full. You have officially made it to the end. Stay focused.
You finish singing the same two songs from the other day, and head back into the holding room. It dawns on you that your partner from the other day hasn’t been here all day. Luckily, you have all of your footwork under your belt. You are ready for anybody. As you scan the room you realize the women are out numbered. It’s the ladies’ turn to work overtime. 7 ladies, 14 men. Each lady gets two partners. More chances to prove yourself. Things just keep looking up.
“Ok everyone, we’re ready for you.”
One last strut into the studio of opportunity. A speedy review is followed by the final shot and ends with the applause for completing an exhausting process.
“Thank you for your time and hard work, everyone. We’ll be in touch if necessary.”
You can’t wait to call your parents to tell them how well the day went. Once that conversation is over just forget all about this show. It’s for your own good. You’ve been booked on a two and a half month summer tour. Be present. Focus on what you already have. What is for you, will not pass you.
It’s almost 2pm. The men flood into the holding room. They begin to prep for their first round of dancing. You have two rounds under your belt, and an hour and a half before you have to come back and warm up for round 3. Time for a light lunch.
After eating just enough to refuel without slipping into a food coma, you step back into the holding room. The leftover ladies join the remaining men. Your headphones are in. You are listening to your “Calm” playlist. You breathe into your zone as you place your bag down on one of the chairs that surround the studio. You stretch into a split on the studio floor. As your eyes wander, you notice there seems to be more women than men. The men will be working overtime during this partnering call. While the creative/casting team shovel their lunch in 15 minutes, the monitor walks in.
“Hey everyone! The creative team wants the ladies to wear heels. You will be learning a salsa combination. We’ll call everyone in as soon as the team is ready.”
4pm hits and you file back into the studio surrounded by every eager auditionee. The team is still behind a table at the far end of the studio. To your right, the mirrors are still foggy from the heat and sweat pouring out of the dancers that have given their all throughout the day. You step into a line formed shortest to tallest. Ladies line up side by side in front of the men. Now facing the mirror, you begin to eye the men behind you. Each man will partner two ladies that best match their height. You have to pay extra close attention since you won’t be working with your partner consistently. Focus on retaining the foot work. The man has to lead. If he’s a good partner, he will guide each move using the correct signals. The creative team will be able to tell who is leading, and who is following. If they notice you trying to lead the man, they will see you as an uncooperative partner, and there goes the job.
This combination is much faster than you anticipated, but you luck out with a great partner. The team watches interactions between every pair in the room. They see that you are personable and easy to work with. You continuously follow and support your partner. This is the first time you have ever met this guy, and you are trusting his hands with your body. The dance ends with you sitting on his shoulder as he walks in a circle. A lot can go wrong. Everyone’s getting tired. He’s lifting two of you over and over again. You are doing a great job of pulling your weight no matter how run down you have become over the last 11 hours of being awake and on the go. If you both want the job, you have to keep it together. Feeding off of adrenaline, you continue to drill alone and swap sweat as you share your partner with another woman. You can’t wait for a long shower.
It’s almost 5pm. “Alright everybody, take another minute to work through the number with each partner, and then we will call you up two couples at a time.”
You have two chances to get this right. The men get four. If he misses a step, you have to try your best to keep going without leading him. Above all, breathe. You have been doing some really great work all day. Just a little longer to go. Don’t let the momentum slip now.
You join your fellow dancers in a clump along the right side of the studio. You review each step as you go. You look to your left, and your partner is there. He gives you a nod, and an assuring pat on the back. Everyone eagerly waits to be called up to the center of the studio.
“Up next we’ll have Allie Donaldson and her partner downstage, and Megan Elyse Fulmer and her partner upstage.”
You and your partner grab hands and walk to your spot in the center. Immediately, you two get into the zone. There is a lot of intro music, and the choreography is intimate. You begin free styling a moment of just meeting in the club, connecting on the dance floor, and doing your own salsa steps. After all, you two did just meet each other an hour ago. Your story line isn’t far from reality.
You two are killing it! You feel so free as he guides you into every step. There is something so liberating about being spun around and swept off your feet. Before you know it, you are already on his shoulder spinning, truly feeling like you are “every woman”.
“Awesome you guys. Now switch positions. Allie and Brendon upstage, Megan and Jason downstage.”
You already nailed the combination one time. You know you can do it again. Out of the corner of your eye, you can see the team truly taking interest in you. You can feel their serious consideration of putting you in this show. Just one more. You are every woman. It’s all in you.
The intro music plays, and you appear to have the same backstory, but with totally different moves. It’s still within the style of the rest of the dance. You guys got this.
You two start off strong, but his foot work slips from his mind. As you two continue to hold eye contact, you give him the nod of reassurance. In your mind you tell him “It’s ok. We’ll keep it going,” and you can see he got the hint. No matter what, you must let him lead. You trust that he can get it together. With that energy, he pulls through and you make it through the last four 8 counts. Before you know it, you’re back on his shoulder feeling more confident than ever about all of the hard work you’ve put in today.
“Thank you guys! Next two partners.”
You two head to the far right corner of the room hand in hand.
“Sorry I got tripped up. You’ve been an awesome partner.” he whispers.
“No problem at all. You’re a great partner as well. I’m glad we got to work together.”
As the last four couples dance, you feel this release. Your body is telling you to start relaxing already, but your mind is telling you not to get too comfortable. The team could ask you and your partner to do the combination again once everyone else has danced. If they call you back another day, you will most likely be doing this choreography again. Keep drilling it so that you wont forget it tomorrow or the next day. The rule of thumb: always be present.
“Thank you all for the work you’ve done today. We will be in touch with you if we need anything else. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Applause ripples through the studio. Everyone grabs their waters and towels and makes their way back to the holding room. Almost everyone takes their turn to nod their head and say “thank you” to the creative team.
As you enter the holding room, the energy softens. It’s as if everyone just took a deep breath in and released it in unison. Some people are mentally preparing themselves for the fact that they still have to work tonight. Some people had to find someone to cover their shift last minute because they didn’t want to risk missing the call back. Some people had to take that risk. There is rent to pay. They missed this round to run to the restaurant they’re hostessing at, hoping this doesn’t ruin their chances of being considered for the show. You can relate. Luckily you got your morning shift covered at your first job, but you still have a Zumba class to teach in an hour. Take one more breath, pack your bags, change your clothes, and forget about all of this until after your class. Review the choreography for a bit before bed, but don’t get too caught up. Although everything went so well today, there are no guarantees. The waiting game has commenced.
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.
©Megan Elyse Fulmer 2014