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.
©Megan Elyse Fulmer 2014