Up at 5:30am. Downtown by 7:00am. Female dancers start at 10:00am. Will you even get seen?
It’s 9:30am on a Wednesday. There are roughly 125 women on the *Non-Equity list. Some of these women may be an *Equity Membership Candidate, but that doesn’t mean anything when you’re all trying to crash the *Equity Chorus Call. At this time, all of the Equity women are strolling into the holding room lining up to take their numbers. You don’t get that luxury when you’re not a member of the *Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). You have to be at the studio by 7:00am if you want a decent number on the Non-Equity list. You know the women fresh out of college, or currently working towards their B.F.A in Musical Theater, started a Non-Equity list at 4:00am. They’ve also put their girlfriend’s names on the list. With that in the back of your mind, you’re hoping to at least be #40 by 7:15am. You hope that whoever is casting/creating the show has additional time to see women who are not yet members of the Actors’ Equity Association. You hope that the monitor overseeing the holding room honors what they call the ‘unofficial’ list—the list you woke up at the crack of dawn to sign up for.
As you primp, stretch, and breathe into your zone, the monitor begins to run down the names on the AEA list. Half of the list is washed away due to no-shows, and a quarter of the names are bumped to the bottom of the list, because they missed their name being called by a minute. After already waiting two-and-a-half hours to find out if you’ll have the chance to dance for a job—you’re in luck. The creative team has decided to see as many Non Union women as possible, AND they are honoring the unofficial list. You will still be #28, and if you’re lucky, there will be no-shows, and you will be seen a little sooner than you anticipated. As hope swirls through your mind, the 10:00am equity group leaves the holding room and enters the audition studio.
Another hour goes by…
You hear the music in the next room, wondering what each step will be. Will there be a lot of turning? Will your shoes be too sticky to do a bunch of turns? Are there high kicks? Are your hamstrings warm enough for that? Is the choreography fast? Are they teaching the choreography at a pace where you can retain each step? Am I toned enough? Am I What They’re Looking For?
The fourth hour hits, and they announce what Non-Equity women will be called in to dance. The last two groups of Equity women were in the audition room longer than the creative team had anticipated. Only 25 Non equity women will be called in to join the last group of Equity dancers. You start to pack your bags because you’re three numbers short, but suddenly, you’re in luck once more. Four women above you are no-shows. You gather your headshot/resume, you stretch out one last time, and do some deep breathing—you’re in.
Once in the room, the nerves flutter. You hear the wisdom of your college professors ringing in your ears, “You are all soup. You’re Campbell, she’s Progresso, and that other girl is Lipton. You all have your brand. What is your secret ingredient that will make me buy your soup?” What can you bring into the room that the other 250 women can’t? Regardless, when’s the last time you actually performed on stage? What was your last contract? Has it been a while? Well guess what, this creative team, and these casting directors are your audience. This is just another chance to perform. Worse comes to worse, you got a free dance class this morning. You don’t get the Equity discount at Broadway Dance Center. $20 a class adds up. You’re happy you took advantage of all those dance classes in college.
After shaking off your first wave of nerves, you get back in the zone. You’re focused on retaining every move. You absorb as many details as you can. You listen to every bit of information the Assistant Choreographer is giving to you. You get as close as you can to looking “show ready”. After thirty minutes of learning a two-minute dance combination, they say, “You have four, eight counts of improv.” You get about 30-seconds to freestyle, and bring your personal flavor to the combination. You can do what you want, but keep this in mind: For this show, the creative team has asked that you bring an edge to whatever you do. They want women who can dance just as hard as the men. They don’t want you to try to be sexy. The sexy is in the power—think Beyoncé, not Britney.
It’s go time. They will call four people at a time. Each group of four has two chances to nail the choreography. You close your eyes and review each step, as the groups before you perform. You may take a peak to see what other people do. You see some things you like, and some moves you don’t. You take mental notes of what seems to work, and what doesn’t. Luckily, you’ve had a bit of time to get grounded before putting yourself out there. You have some tricks up your sleeve to show you can dance next to the guys. You know you have the power this team is looking for.
Here we go!
After nailing each step, you wait. You’re feeling great, but you know not to get your hopes up. This has happened before. You’ve been in rooms where you know you’ve rocked the audition, but you learn you look too much like the director’s ex-girlfriend, so you won’t be going any further in the audition process. The director doesn’t need that constant reminder of the woman who broke his heart. Whether you are two inches too short, you have the wrong hair color, or you don’t have enough Instagram followers, you’re prepared to say, “thank you” and gracefully exit the room. 8/10 times, you didn’t get the job for reasons you can’t control. You can find peace in that.
As the creative/casting team deliberates in the far corner of the room, the rest of you talk amongst yourselves. Banter rooted in butterflies. Two minutes to pretend you’re having a casual conversation on the N, Q, R. The banter breaks, and silence stirs. “Thank you to everyone who has given up their morning to dance for us. If we call your name, you will be asked to stay and sing a 16 bar cut of a pop/rock song. If your name is not called, again, we thank you for your time.”
“Julia Brooks, Lauren Strauss, Amanda Lee Tucker, Ashley Marx, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
* Actors’ Equity Association (AEA): The labor union representing American Actors and Stage Managers in the theatre.
* Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): The third way one gets an equity card is through the "Equity Membership Candidate Program". In this program, actors are allowed to work in Equity productions as credit towards eventual membership. For each week you perform under an Equity contract, you earn 1 point. You need 25 points to earn full membership into the Actors Equity Association.
* Equity Chorus Call (ECC): An open call for dancers, or singers, that allows Equity actors to audition for the chorus of a production.
* Non-Equity (Non-union): A performer who is not yet a member, or candidate, of AEA.