With heavy eyes and a foggy mind, you enter your new room in Baltimore, Maryland. You spent last night partying with your older brother, absorbing your last bit of family time in Philly. You spent the entire week in Philadelphia spreading yourself thin by seeing as many friends and family as possible, all while doing the show each night. The injury, the celebrating, and the show force you to reevaluate the way you choose to live on the road. Since you have the rest of Monday off, you plan a lunch and grocery trip with your friend and fellow castmate, Sean.
Walking towards an empty both in Panera, you and Sean begin expressing the different challenges you both have faced thus far. Through your exhaustion, you continue the conversation. “Sean, I need a fresh start. I feel like I need a complete mental and physical cleanse. I’ve been so stressed and it’s weighing on me. I need to start making some changes.”
You agree to cut communication with your ex, cut back the partying, and you plan to alter your diet. In eleven weeks, you will be opening “The Bodyguard” at the Hollywood Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. You plan to take new headshots while staying in LA for 3 weeks, so you want to look and feel your very best. For the next eleven weeks, in addition to eating clean, you will create a workout routine that won’t overly exhaust you before showtime. Sean is one hundred percent on board and looks forward to witnessing your transformation. He’s the perfect friend to share your goals with because you know he’ll continue to motivate you towards a happy, healthy future.
After your first full day of clean eating and pre-show exercises, you have the perfect amount of energy for opening night at the Hippodrome Theater. The Hippodrome is providing an opening night party in the lobby of the theater. You didn’t bring anything nice to wear, because you weren’t sure that going to an opening night party would be the best decision after expressing the need to cut back the partying. Sean walks back to the hotel with you and escorts you to your room. You begin looking through clothes, still debating whether or not you should attend this party. “Bitch get dressed. You’re going. There’s free food and free wine. If the food is crap, we’ll go home.” Your gaze shifts from the mirror to Sean. “You’re right. Ok, let’s go.”
You walk into the theater’s lobby in boots not meant for fancy parties. Those boots have no heel, so until your ankle is closer to feeling one hundred percent; they’re your only option. Luckily, you’ve maintained the fresh blow out you got at a salon in Philly, so you enter the party feeling confident, at least from the knee up. You walk up the stairs onto the balcony and join the festivities. Immediately, you and Sean find the food table. They have a great salad option for you, so you fill up your plate and walk towards the bar. You quickly eat your salad so that you don’t have to juggle your food and your cabernet. You swallow the last bite, and wash it down with the first sip of wine. You begin scanning the clumps of people around the room. You recognize the clump of talented musicians, but one face doesn’t seem familiar. You look a little longer and realize you unfortunately have never seen that handsome face before. You were always going to say hello to your friends in the band, but now, motivation rushes you in their direction.
You enter the circle of men, intentionally standing to the right of the one you don’t know. You look up at the mystery man and only say, “Hi.” You say hello to the rest of the band members in the circle as you wait for mystery man to acknowledge you. They exchange their hellos, and mystery looks down to reply. “Oh. Hey!” As the conversation flows throughout the circle, you learn that this man, Harry, has been friends with the trumpet player, David since they were 15 years-old. David has been touring for the past 13 years, and ever since Harry moved to Maryland, David has stayed at his house when he plays a show close by. Since the whole cast and crew received comp tickets and plus-ones for this opening party, Harry came along. David continues to share his interest in making empanadas while staying with Harry. You look across the circle at David. “I love empanadas! When is this happening?” Dave smirks, noticing how close you’ve chosen to stand next to his best friend.
“I don’t know! Thursday?”
You smile wide, and invite yourself to enjoy the taste treats. “Thursday works for me!”
Conversation continues to swirl around the circle, but your eyes only see Harry’s. He hasn’t been able to keep his eyes off of you either. He begins asking you questions and the two of you continue to have a private conversation. Before you know it, you and Harry are the only ones left standing together. You both pause for a moment, realizing the rest of the band has dispersed, but you don’t want to lose momentum. You take the initiative to keep the energy going.
“So, Thursday?” He smiles. “Yes! Thursday it is!” Expecting him to ask for your number, you give him a verbal nudge. “Great! So, how will I know where to go, or what time to arrive?” Realizing he’s forgetting an important detail, “Oh! Walk with me.” He puts out his right arm to link with your left. You walk towards an isolated area of the lobby. “May I please have your number?” You give him your number and he continues to lead you towards a quiet nook near the bathrooms and the kitchen. “Ok, I have to ask. May I kiss you?” Your heart flutters and your smile brightens. Without showing how completely giddy you feel, you keep it cool. “Of course.” He gently places his hands on your cheeks and kisses you. He pulls back and looks up at the ceiling. “Ummmm, one more.” He looks into your eyes before placing a peck on your lips. Pulling away again he says, “Ok one more.” He repeats the act of endearment. “Ok just one more.” By the third one, you try to hold back the laughter, but you continue to chuckle as his lips are upon yours. You part ways, and meet with Sean. “I can’t believe I wasn’t going to come tonight! Thank you for getting me to this party!” Sean additionally swooning over Harry, “Girl he is fine! You’re welcome.”
On a chilly Sunday night, you sit in the passenger seat of Harry’s white Mercedes with ice saran-wrapped around your ankle to decrease swelling after an eventful five-show weekend in Baltimore. You can’t believe Harry picked you up from the theater to enjoy a third night together. You two have been smiling and laughing since your first date on Thursday. As he zooms onto the highway, your heart sinks a bit, realizing this is the last time you will take this drive with him for a long time, or maybe ever. Will he want to continue seeing you knowing you signed a contract that will keep you away for another 15 months?
Back in his house, Harry holds you in his arms as you continue sharing life stories, learning and loving more about him. Loving? Yes. Crazy? Maybe, but you can’t help this overwhelming, unfamiliar sensation. Something about him feels right without explanation. In complete awe of what has come over you, you soak up this beautiful moment. From your experience on your last two tours and other regional productions, you thought people could never find anyone worth pursuing while on the road. You thought people could only wind up in a temporary showmances that ends soon after the production comes to a close. You never thought you would have the chance of meeting someone worth pursuing beyond a first date, let alone someone who isn’t in the industry. You’ve always wanted to meet a man who isn’t a performer, but still understands the lifestyle. When a show consumes your world, the chances of meeting a wonderful someone who isn’t a performer seems slim to none, but Harry could be the man to prove your all of your theories wrong.
The doubt of seeing Harry again fades as conversation flows deeper into the night.
“I really hope to see you again. I know you were thinking of coming to San Diego for David’s birthday, but it would cool to see you before six months from now. I’d like to keep talking if want to.”
“Yea, of course. Just text me tomorrow. If I hear from you, I’d love to keep talking.”
“I will for sure.”
Based on his past, he reluctantly says, “Ok, we’ll see if you do.”
The following morning, Harry drives you and David to the airport to join the rest of your cast for a one-way flight to Charlotte. Parked in front of Southwest Airlines, Harry helps you remove your luggage from the trunk, and you share one last kiss. “I will be sure to text you when I land.” He smiles back at you. “I hope so.” He drives off, leaving you flustered with a mix of emotions. You drop your luggage off, pass through TSA, and settle onto the plane. Remembering that he’s not allowed to have his personal phone at his office, you begin drafting a text that he will come back to after a long work day. You’ve dreamt of a man like Harry for a long time. You don’t want to let him go. This is a great first gesture towards a man who could be a positive addition to your journey towards an all around healthier life style.
You gaze out the window as the cast bus rolls on from Columbus, Ohio to Philadelphia. Your phone alerts you of a new email from Allen Foster. Foster, along with other Bucks County press, have been calling you the past two weeks to do an interview before arriving in your hometown. Foster’s article is titled “Megan Fulmer, Bucks County’s Treasure, appearing in The Bodyguard.” Your heart fills with joy and feels as if a bright yellow light shines through your puffy winter coat. After sitting for a week in Columbus and watching the full show from the audience to rest your ankle, this headline makes any pain go away. Your ankle has reached about 85% health, and good fortune has healed you just in time to dance for friends and family. Your eyes continue to gaze past the window’s barrier and you begin to recognize familiar venues like the Wells Fargo Center, where you performed as a 76ers Jr. Dancer from 2003-2005. Now, 12 years later, you will fulfill your dreams of performing onstage at the Academy of Music. Your cheeks spread to a warm smile as the bus takes you closer to the hotel where your parents anxiously await your arrival.
You feel like a little kid running home from your first day of kindergarten as you peer into the hotel lobby where your parents stand grinning. “Meggy!!! Hi honey!” After the the stress that built towards the end of your time in Chicago, and being out of the show for an entire week, hugs from your parents heal every emotional and physical wound. Your younger brother lives in Philly and meets you and your parents at a restaurant two blocks away from the hotel. As you enter the pub and walk past the bar, you suddenly recognize classmates from high school. Before you know it, you see more old friends that you haven’t stayed connected with since you graduated.You choose not to say anything to them; you’re enjoying time with your family. Once you leave Philly to head to the next city, you won’t see your family for five months, so you want to soak up every second of time you’ll get with them this week. You finish your meal and get up to use the bathroom. In that time, some of your drunken classmates greet you and you take ten minutes to catch up. You gesture to your family, they meet a few of the other Pennsbury alumni, and then you walk back to the hotel to have just a few more minutes of family time before you shut down and rest. You need plenty of sleep to ensure a strong comeback in front of loved ones that plan on seeing you live your dreams.
Tuesday you arrive at the theater an hour early for physical therapy. The nerves flutter through your stomach, but your excitement won’t let it overwhelm you. At the end of your session, the physical therapist wraps your ankle for protection and assures you this will be a successful opening despite the injury. You hurry to the company meeting, and then begin stretching before soundcheck. Your stage manager’s voice rings through the monitors in your dressing room.
“Can I have the ensemble to stage for ‘How Will I Know?’”
With your mic in place, you step onto the stage. That light in your heart beams brighter than the ones that hang above your head. You look out and pan the theater. The last time you were inside the Academy of Music, you sat in the audience with your choir director and voice teacher supporting high school alumnus, and your teacher’s former student, Christy Altomare, who starred as Wendla in Spring Awakening’s first national tour. At that time, you smiled with a mouth full of braces, dreaming of the day you would be on that stage. Nine years later, the time has arrived. A rush of adrenaline guides you through soundcheck into the moment you stand in your opening position.
The confetti cannons pop and the crowd is on their feet, roaring louder than any other audience before them. You expect nothing less from the lovely men and women of Philadelphia. You grew up with enough Eagles and Phillies fans to know when anyone from Philly finds something they thoroughly enjoy, they will continue to support that thing with more passion than you could ever imagine. Your older and younger brothers, your cousin Kiana, and your ex greet you at the stage door. Your ex insisted on being at the opening just like he insists on sending you flowers for every opening in every city since he showed up empty-handed at the Papermill Playhouse opening.You appreciate the gesture, but your family is here and a dream just came true, so you allot your time accordingly.
You bring your crew to the opening night party held at The Ritz-Carlton. Your older brother holds his copy of a Deborah Cox album he bought when he was a kid. You two spent many car rides Jamming out to her albums, and now your brother stands beside you as you introduce him to Deborah. Your heart glows and lights up the dim room where your brother shares his story of searching many music stores to buy a specific album that had one of his favorite Deborah Cox songs. She smiles and thanks him for his support throughout the years. You see the 12-year old version of him try to hide his excitement as she signs his CD. This was the perfect cherry on top of a memorable evening.
The whirlwind of a week has already flown you into Friday morning. You’ve had family and friends come to support you at every performance thus far, including the choir director and voice teacher you sat with when you watched “Spring Awakening.” The support fills you with gratitude, and it looks as though that support will continue until the final performance in Philly. Those thoughts keep you smiling as you and your mom walk to a local nail salon to meet Deborah, Roni, Alejandra, Naomi, and Jasmin for a mani-pedi. Never did your 7 year-old self think you and your mom would be getting mani pedis with Deborah Cox. After a fresh coat of pink and gold polish, you all migrate to a hip restaurant for lunch. You sit at the table and your heart begins to glow as your mom and Deborah chat about music, the latest on “Love and Hiphop,” and what it’s like to raise three kids, and the difference between raising boys and girls. You chuckle after watching your mom behave the exact same way your brother did during their interactions with Miss Cox. With a full heart and belly, you go back to your hotel room and prepare for PT. You’ve done a great job of taking care of your ankle, but you just want to make sure you can maintain strength going into a five-show weekend.
Each audience fills the theater with love stronger than the night before. Radio shows continue to promote the show even though very few tickets are available for these last two performances. You walk into PT on this Sunday morning for your final treatment of the week. Your ankle feels tired and sore, but you want to close the week strong. You proceed to flow through the exercises that have been given to you by your physical therapist, Angelica. You leave to finish your wig prep, but return to have her wrap your ankle right before changing into your opening costume. Knowing you have parents affiliated with your high school’s theater department in the audience pushes you through the matinee before your parents arrive for the closing performance.
Your younger brother joins you and your parents for one more dinner before the last show. The pressure of performing through an injury, and all the time you’ve spent catching up with friends and family after each show, takes a toll on you. You even plan to meet your older brother after the closing show for one last hoorah before leaving Philly. Though your body feels heavy, and an overwhelming sensation is boiling up, the stress calms down as you smile at your parents across the table and release a sigh of relief. Having the people who helped you get to where you are today gives you everything you need rise above it all. You didn’t realize just how much you need them here to end the week strong. Tour is stressful, injuries and people come and go, but you will always have your family when you need them most.
The wheels of the airplane release from underneath you, preparing to rumble and jolt on the runway of the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. You and the rest of the cast race off the plane and load onto the bus that transports you from the airport to the hotel. The cast looks forward to the luxury of a two week sit down at the Oriental Theatre. The celebration of two full weeks in one city commences with a ladies’ night including castmates Jasmin, Emily, and Arielle.
You quickly change into your dark blue, detailed jeans, black, heeled boots, and a long-sleeve black top with a triangular cut out on your chest, painting the illusion of wearing a thick black choker. You meet the other three ladies in the hotel lobby and wait for the Uber Emily ordered to take you to “Duck Duck Goat,” the restaurant her good friend works at. Emily’s friend greets you at the front of the restaurant and another new face joins the mix: Arielle’s friend from Hamilton’s Chicago cast, Chloe. Chloe brings such a lovely light and energy to the table as you all continue to share delicious dishes and conversation. Dinner turns to drinks and the laughter continues. The ladies of The Bodyguard plan to have a ladies’ night in Chicago, but Emily doesn’t know that it’s in her honor since sadly, she will be leaving the cast at the end of the two weeks. Chloe and Arielle plan to bring both the Bodyguard and Hamilton ladies together one day this week for a ladies’ night dinner, and it appears that you have something planned almost every night this week. You’ll sleep when you’re dead.
For the first time in four weeks, you break your morning ritual to sleep in after a long Monday night out. You take time for a lavender epsom salt bath before opening night; the chill of The Windy City can cause extra stress on your joints and muscles, so you take extra precaution healing your body. Castmates are already fighting colds with the seasonal change, and you have yet to call out of a performance. You take a trip to Trader Joe’s to buy apple cider vinegar and other remedies that prevent illness from infecting you, knowing that you will have more late nights out than usual.
After an easy-going afternoon, you walk to the theater with Jorge, Alejandra, and Lauren. You complete your pre-show tasks and change into your costume for “Queen of the Night.” You walk to your opening position and as you hit your number, the theater rumbles and the drums cue the lights. As Deborah proudly belts the lyrics, “I ain’t nobody’s angel…” the boys lay flat on the ground with the ensemble women walking over them. You always lock eyes with an audience member in this moment to help you concentrate on your foot pattern so that you don’t step on one of the guys. Tonight, your eyes shockingly meet a familiar gaze.
I really think it’s Ryan, but it can’t be. What would he be doing in Chicago?
You recognize the face of someone you happened to go on a few dates with in NYC. You don’t let this throw you mid dance number, but as you run to your next quick change, you tell the ladies what just happened.
You tuck another successful opening under your belt and free your hair from the braided wig prep. You, Jasmin, Arielle, your makeup and hair guy Cosmo, and Emily decide to grab a bite to eat and have your own mini opening night celebration. Your phone dings and lights up the palm of your hand.
“Hey Meg, this is really random, but my family flew me to Chicago to see the Steve Harvey Show for my 30th birthday. I wanted to catch a Broadway show while I was out here, and since I don’t do social media anymore I completely forgot you were in “The Bodyguard.” Well, I just saw the show and you lit up the stage as always. Congratulations love.”
“I KNEW IT,” you blurt out loud. You show the text to your friends and invite Ryan to join you all for a bite to eat. You all spend the night celebrating as you had the night before.
Your alarm rings at 9:00am and somehow you don’t hit snooze. You throw on some athletic wear and meet six other cast members at Barry’s Boot camp for a 10:00am class. Your partner, Bradford has worked for Barry’s for a long time now and invites you guys to take his class. Luckily you didn’t drink too much last night, so no hangover will break the Barry’s butt-kicking. Somehow you maintain the energy to explore Chicago with Lauren, Alejandra, and Jorge before the show.
The confetti cannons pop, you rush off stage, and you and the ladies primp for the speakeasy Emily’s friend recommended. You and the other ensemble women, Jasmin, and Chloe, come together for a night of laughing and showering Emily with love while you still can. You later join a chunk of the “Hamilton” cast for drinks at an underground tiki bar. Some men of “Hamilton” treat you ladies to two rounds of drinks, and the two casts migrate to another club actually called “The Underground.” The night lingers until your phone reads 2:30am. You close out, and stumble into your room at 3:15 am.
Thursday morning’s routine seems to be out the door. Another epsom salt bath will remedy another long day followed by another crazy night out. You take another shot of apple cider vinegar with honey and cinnamon, and drink another packet of Emergen-C. You make the smart choice to relax most of the day. Soul Cycle gifted the cast with free classes for two weeks, so you, Emily, and Lauren take an afternoon class as a pre-show warm up before walking to the theater. As you braid your hair, you and the other ladies chat about last night and speculate on what ladies’ night will be like tomorrow with the women of “Hamilton.” You, Emily, and Arielle stepped out of character going out every night since you got to Chicago. You turn to your left and say to Emily, “We’ve been eating at bougie restaurants, taking high-end fitness classes, and going out like it’s our job. Who do we think we are? The Real Housewives of Chicago?” The ladies laugh and disperse for places.
Friday night post-show, you walk with the ladies of “The Bodyguard” towards the restaurant that the “Hamilton” ladies chose for dinner. Some men of “Hamilton” heard about the plan for ladies’ night, and decided to grab dinner at the same time. Jokingly offended that they can’t sit with us, they find a separate area of the restaurant anxiously waiting to join us post dinner. You reconnect with ladies you know from the “Hamilton” cast, and get to know the ones who are new to you. After a quick bite, the night leads you back to The Underground for a night of endless dancing with both casts. Another night of you walking into your room at 4:00 am. Luckily, this means you and “Sir” are up at the same time, so it gives you both a chance to catch up. Your head hits the pillow and your eyes shut at 5:30 am.
A week and a day have flown by since the combined ladies’ night and you’ve cut back on being a queen of the night; you leave that for show time. Between partying, illness, the loss of a cast member, rehearsing a new member, and new tension between ensemble members, you feel everything take a toll on your body. You only have to make it through one show tomorrow, and then you fly out of the Chicago chaos. You enter the stage for the Saturday night finale, pushing through pure exhaustion. At the end of the first chorus, you cha cha your way to your partner, Brendon. You continue the partner work as he lifts you up to the left and prepares to put you down on his right. As you start to land, he brings you in a little too close. Your black sneaker wedge lands on his Adidas, and your ankle rolls. Luckily, you land far enough stage right that you can hobble to steps into the wings. You collapse and crawl further out of the way. Your assistant stage manager calls the Physical Therapist up to stage level, and you swallow two Advils. You haven’t called out up until now. Looks like you need some time off.
The high ceilings ring with the sound of Dinah Washington’s voice echoing through a cafe in Memphis, Tennessee. You sip your morning latte as you take a glimpse out of the antique windows that surround the building from floor to ceiling. You write poetry and lyrics in your journal while enjoying this local cafe as you do in every city. Your words help you work through the relationships in your life that are open with no label, and allows your writing to express yourself more eloquently. Continuing hobbies and activities outside of the show makes you feel grounded, so you sip your coffee and let the words flow from pen to paper.
The beauty of equity touring is in the schedule that allows you to explore. In the past, you weren’t in a city long enough to fully discover what makes it so wonderful. You research the must see sites nearby, and form a list of activities that will keep you busy each day before the show. Other castmates have done their research as well and plan to join you on a few excursions. Some castmates have toured through this city before, so they know all of the sites they want to revisit, or venture through for the first time. Since you travel to each city on a Monday, you usually take that evening to get groceries for the week in order to save money on some meals, and use Tuesday to rest before soundcheck and opening night. Your personal challenge: how much can you accomplish Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before heading into a five-show weekend?
The thin white curtains can’t hide the radiant sun peering through your hotel windows on a Wednesday morning. While you’d usually find a pitch black room ideal, this week you don’t mind the sun’s assistance to the soothing build of your alarm; you don’t want the daily adventures to take away from your morning writing. You play some new Emily Estefan music, primp for the day, and walk to your Memphis morning hotspot. After completing lyrics to a new song, you walk back to the hotel, and join a group of 13 people to explore Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Even though you hold a tablet connected to headphones that produce the voice of John Stamos as your personal tour guide, your good friend Corrado has taken it upon himself to act as the group’s guide through Graceland. He’s been to Graceland a few times before, and has read many books about Elvis Presley’s life. His wealth of knowledge and ridiculous fun facts resonate through the hallways causing a group of eight people to follow your group of thirteen. These tourists truly believe Corrado has been hired to guide them as he leads you room to room in his all black suit. You and the cast follow and laugh in disbelief. That day you coined the phrase, “Who needs Google when you have Corrado!”
After three hours away from the group, you meet again at the theater. Each lady in the dressing room shares their journey of the day. You and the three ladies at Graceland share your newfound respect for Corrado’s brain with the rest of the women. Laughter rings through the space and follows down the stairs into quick change alley. Throughout the show, you find moments offstage exchanging new inside jokes with the ones you shared your day with. The show continues to fly as the joy of the day soars with you and the cast through every number.
Frank Sinatra floods the cafe this Thursday morning inspiring another lovely lyric session. You clear your mind to prepare yourself for a heavy day at the Lorraine Hotel. The extreme contrast from yesterday’s adventure to today’s walk through racism calls for a morning of mental preparation and a box of tissues. You join your castmates Willie and Jasmin for this next history lesson.
You walk inside the Lorraine Hotel to see the museum informing patrons of the journey from slavery, through segregation, to the day Dr. King was shot. You see a model of the bus Rosa Parks sat on. You make your way to the top of the hotel, as Willie leaves for the day. You and Jasmin are left staring at the inside of the room where Dr. King was shot. You and Jasmin take your time, walking outside and across the street to enter the building the Dr. King’s assassin shot from. You two spent a total of five hours sinking into the horror that still scars our country. You both walk away with a heavy heart, but thankful that you have each other to lean on through the tears.
At half-hour until show, and you find your way to Jasmin’s dressing room. She thanks you again for being with her through the Lorraine Hotel, and invites you to join her, Ariel, and Deborah’s dresser, Roni for high tea at the Peabody Hotel tomorrow afternoon before the show. You’ve never done high tea before, so you say, “Yes, I’d love to,” and continue your pre-show preparation.
For your last free day before the show, you take yourself on a date to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to soak up all of the wonderful sounds Memphis brought to the world. The moving music was the pick me up you needed after yesterday’s excursion. You couldn’t wait to tell the ladies all about it at tea.
You enter the Peabody Hotel and see the famous little birds that waddle across the lobby. You find the other ladies and walk towards your table for tea. You see Roni everyday, but haven’t had the opportunity to fully connect with her. You were unaware of all the tea that would spill from her lips about her history in the industry. She wore a cross that was given to her by her good friends Bebe and Cece Winans. Roni shared stories of her time styling Whitney Houston herself, and the years she spent styling Prince and Sheila E for their biggest concerts. Ending your history week with the history of Roni’s inspiring career was the most uplifting tea Jasmin, Ariel, and I could’ve imagined. We made a pact to never give up on the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
After a Saturday morning of writing before a two-show day, your mind clears in order to mentally prepare your body for an intense four-show weekend. Between your personal rituals and the wonderful moments you’ve shared with many members of your cast, you walk into the dressing room before each performance feeling closer and closer to your cast. Those bonds carry over to interactions onstage, filling each performance with more energy than the one before. Sharing the beauty of each city helps you learn more about your country and makes memories that bring your tour family together.
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 has 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.
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.