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