It’s noon on Tuesday, and you are ready for your next duty. For some extra money in your non-union check, you get to drive Van Number Two. Five days a week you’re responsible for driving a handful of cast members from 38th and 10th to Papermill Playhouse.
You park Van Two and take your first look at the legendary playhouse. Friendly faces welcome you as you walk through the stage door. You turn to your right to sign in on a sheet of paper pinned to the call board. You continue down a small set of steps. On your left, you enter the tiny, tan dressing room that will be your second home for the next six weeks. Seven ladies shoulder to shoulder explore the goody bags placed in front of each mirror. Greeted with free makeup provided by Jay Manuel and other guides of Millburn, NJ provided by Papermill, excitement bubbles in your stomach. Christmas came early in your eyes. You begin testing different lipsticks until you and the cast are called onto stage.
Similar to the first day of rehearsals in NYC, you join a semi-circle with cast mates, and new inviting faces that will be lending their hands in bringing this show to life. After trying to memorize as many names and faces as you can in ten minutes, the real work begins.
“All right everybody, we will be starting at the top of the show for our ‘cue to cue.’ We ask that you be patient, hold your positions as needed, and do not talk unless it is absolutely necessary. This is the time for all of us on the crew to set the show and work through scenic changes. Judson, Bradford, and Matt set up for the opening scene, and my dancers be ready to go into “Queen of the Night.”
You warm up in a cramped space in the hallway behind the stage. In all of your experiences teching a show, you’ve never had to dance full out. This time isn’t really for more rehearsal. It’s for lights/sound to set cues, people on deck to get used to moving set pieces, setting automation cues, and providing props. All of that continues to hold priority, but this creative team wants to take advantage of this time to do some extra rehearsal. They expect you to perform at show level each time the number is run.
After a lift call, you set up for the top of “Queen of the Night.” You dance your way through the first half of the big number. There is a small scene that happens downstage right in the middle of the song. You hold upstage as the crew resets the lights to focus on the actors downstage. You walk back to your opening position, and you start the number once more. Once more turns to twice more. By the fourth time, you finally make it to the end of the song and prepare yourself for the mock quick change, into the rehearsal room scene. Once you make it passed this chunk of the show, you will have quite a bit of downtime.
The creative team took their tough tactics and transferred them into the tech process. Between holding for the crew, and rerunning numbers for the creative team, tech is taking slightly longer than anticipated. It’s the end of the first 10 hour day, and they haven’t even finished the first act yet. The second half of the day has been a nice break for your body, but that means the salsa marathon will have to wait until tomorrow. At 11pm, you drive 45 minutes back to the city, walk ten minutes to the N train, and ride 20 minutes back into Astoria. Another 16 hour day awaits you tomorrow.
Day two of tech hits, and you don’t have much to do. After finishing your bit at the end of act one, there’s still 5 minutes left of the act. You and the ensemble sing offstage at the top of act two, and then there’s more down time before “I’m Every Woman.” To your surprise, the scenes take up most of the ten hour day. With only 30 minutes left, and not having danced all day, you and the cast hope that the team will start with salsa tomorrow. That hope vanishes as your stage manager’s voice rings through the speakers.
“Alright everyone, we’re going to move on to salsa. We are going to get through as much as we possibly can. Dancers, warm up and dance full out.”
You may not have been doing much, but it has been such a long day, and the exhaustion is real. The panic overwhelms you. Doing this number under these conditions can flare your injury. Your heart pounds a little harder. Your hands slightly shake. You breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. You meet your partner upstage behind the sliders.
“It’s ok. I got you. If you need extra support, tell me and we’ll work through it.”
The music starts, and the energy shifts. Everyone’s tense through their opening choreography. Your dance captain is out due to injury. His swing worked through all of the lifts successfully, but you can see the nerves in his eyes as you both move through the dance break. He does such a great job of guiding you, and doesn’t irritate your injury at all. Despite the panic, you all make it through the number, and finish with a sigh of relief. With only fifteen minutes left of the tech day, you can begin to unwind. To your right, you see the swing rubbing his elbow with a look of discomfort. The stage managers voice booms once more.
“Great job everyone. We need you to reset to the top. Get ready to do the number full out once more.”
You look to your right and three of the dancers fume with anger. You’re tired, but at this point, you just want to push through and go home. The choreographer Karen and her associate Amy come backstage. You see the swing approach the two. The three of them continue to walk to where everyone can hear the conversation.
“I’m having a sharp pain in my arm, and it’s starting to go numb. I can go through the number again and be in my spot for lighting purposes, but is it ok if I don’t do the lifts?”
The second swing stands nearby. You see stress overwhelm his face. Karen looks over to him, and then back at the injured swing.
“Nope. Willie you’re broken. Sean you're in.”
“But, I haven’t done a lift call. I don’t feel comfortable doing the lifts at this time either.”
“That’s fine. Just make sure you’re on the number where the lift happens.”
Everyone stands silently as their eyes widen. With only ten minutes left, the new swing tries to think through each number he stands on, the path he takes to get to each number, all of the different choreography, and who he partners with at what time. You wish you could go give Willie a hug, but he’s already cleared the area. You have to get to your opening spot. You don’t have anytime to work through the dance break with Sean.
The music plays once more. Such a melancholy vibe through such an upbeat melody. You notice a bit of chaos, but each dancer supports Sean by gently guiding him into each formation. You meet him for the dance break, and it just doesn’t feel right. A chart pain stabs your groin. It’s not his fault though. You weren’t given the time to work through the movement properly. You salsa through the pain to the end of the number.
“Thank you everyone. We will end here, and pick up where we left off tomorrow. Get home safely, and get some good rest.”
The angered chatter rises as each ensemble member enters the vans. No one wants to end a long tech day on such a low note. Just a few minutes more, and you will be in your bed, icing and reseting for what you hope will be a brighter last tech day. Hopefully, you will have a more positive transition into dress rehearsals.
A week of sitting out of rehearsals feels like a month. It’s like going from starting point guard to bench warmer. You want nothing more than to be in the game. You’ve done your time resting on the sidelines. Week three starts now.
You flow through your pre-rehearsal warmup. A pulling/aching sensation shocks your groin in certain positions, but you are smart about not pushing beyond your current limits. The associate choreographer who has been running every dance rehearsal is understanding, and allows you to mark the moves that put the most strain on your injury. That’s a relief, but nerves rush to your stomach at the thought of how the choreographer may react.
Today is the first day you work with choreographer Karen Bruce. You experienced a taste of what it is like to work with her during auditions, but now it’s the real thing. Until today, Miss Bruce has been in London, where the creative team is from. She’s flown in to guide you all through the rest of rehearsals, and plans to stay until the first preview of the full production. Standing in front of the mirrors at the front of the studio, Karen and the associate choreographer, Amy discuss which dancer follows what track.
“Hello everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing the work Amy has done with you all. We’re going to start by working through the individual rumbas and dance breaks in ‘I’m Every Woman.’ Let’s start with the rumba section with the couple that dances downstage right.”
You have a moment to review your rumba with your partner. He’s been dancing with the female swing until now, so you both take time to reacquaint with each others bodies again. You discovered which muscles you have to engage in order to reduce the risk of adding extra stress on your groin. Those muscles are your focus as you reprogram the movement into your muscle memory. You’re confident in this section. The dance break is what drops your heart into your stomach.
“Can I have the couple that dances upstage right?”
You and your partner walk across the studio and stand in your spot. A number line draws across the front of the studio used as a reference to solidify each formation, or to position each actor accordingly. You look to your left and right. There are lines taped to the floor representing the number of wings, and the amount of room you have in each space. You and your partner stand on number four, at the front edge of wing two, stage right.
Karen watches your rumba, and breaks down the details in the moment. Everyone has different choreography. She directs you and your partner through the intimacy that lives in your specific rumba. She guides you through the movement that breathes, and the movement that needs more attack. Your rumba has a new dynamics, and more ornamentation to implement throughout the piece. This 30-second section happens half way through the number. The real challenge will be applying these directions once you’re out of breath and trying to sing.
Karen proceeds to work through the rest of the rumbas, and eventually gets to your dance break that follows. It’s hard to breathe through the nerves when the lump in your throat won’t let you. Luckily, you trust your partner. You know he will give you what you need to protect your body through the move that lead to your injury.
Your partner lifts you over his shoulder, brings you down, and spins you around. You grab each other’s right hand as if you are shaking hands. He braces himself as your right leg lifts up, and wraps around your arm. He spins you to your left. Your leg lifts as you turn under the handshake hold. Your groin pulses after the turn, but you brace yourself for the final moves of the dance break. You made it through the dance break this time, but that pulse in your groin is telling you not to do that again. You ignore that warning, and try again. Now your groin is angry. You tell Karen about the injury, and again, your eyes widen at her understanding. She directs what she can, and lets you take a moment to rest.
After running through each number numerous times, you pace to the elevator drenched in sweat. You rush three blocks down to teach a zumba class, as you shove a protein bar into your system. Your boss is aware of your injury, so you give your class as much as you can without stressing your groin any further. You push through another hour of cardio, and find a place to grab a bite to eat. A shower and a good night sleep is all that’s left on your to-do list. The next two weeks, A.K.A. the last two weeks, of rehearsal will be the most crucial in order for each number to be as polished and show-ready as possible.
In the two weeks, you’ve managed to fill every moment in time. Physical therapy is necessary for your groin to heal. Depending on your therapist’s schedule, you either receive treatment before rehearsal, speed walk during your lunch break, or you end your day with an hour of PT. You teach two classes a week, and utilize your friend’s gym so that you can continue healing your muscles through a hot tub and cold pool. Every day is a whirlwind, but there’s a newfound excitement in the hustle and bustle.
Additionally, each rehearsal in the last two weeks has grown far more intense. Every time the creative teams asks you all to drill a number they are testing you. Do you have the stamina to give 1,000% to each dance, simultaneously singing your heart out? The creative team will make sure you do. This method of rehearsing affects each performer in different ways. You all to strive for consistency in a professional setting, but not everyone is used to performing such long, high impact numbers so many times in a day. The creative team continuously fills your bodies with a lot of information, but the greatest gift of all is the pressure that leads the cast to grow stronger together.
You stretch in the studio on the penultimate day of the NYC rehearsals. The drilling continues as you all prepare for press day. Deborah Cox and Jasmin Richardson will be singing their duet “Run to You,” and Deborah and dancers will perform “I’m Every Woman” for representatives from Playbill, Theater Mania, Broadway World, and more. Wanting to be fresh for press, you and the other dancers hope for a bit more downtime to preserve energy; the creative team has a different approach.
The creative team has you drill each number. You finish running “I’m Every Woman” for a fourth time, and now there’s a limited amount of time until press arrives. This means you will perform this number for the fifth time in one day. Exhaustion taunts each dancer as everyone prepare to look “show-ready.” A voice echoes to your right.
“Guys we got this.”
You turn to your main salsa partner as he proceeds to share words of encouragement. These words ripple throughout the ensemble. Each dancer shares words that gives you wings to soar through this number one more time. The music starts. The energy lifts. The press loves it. There’s a plague of smiles that infect the entire cast as you fire through this last run. This bond has officially created a tour family, despite the exhaustion. You can all walk away with pride.
Your body’s never felt so good on a Saturday rehearsal. Yesterday’s energy lingers into the last day in the studio. The producers and crew that help bring this show to life arrive at 1pm. They witness the last run through before transferring to Papermill Playhouse to tech the show. You officially learned the ins and outs of this production. You’ve learned more ways to take care of yourself during a strenuous rehearsal process. Best of all, you have a family bond with an encouraging cast to lead each other into a successful run.
1. Mark: To not fully execute the movement
2. Wings: The spaces on the sides of the stage that allow actors to enter and exit the stage.
3. Deborah Cox: Played “Rachel Marron” (principal role) in The Bodyguard First National US Tour.
4. Jasmin Richardson: Played ”Nicki Marron” (supporting actress) in The Bodyguard First National US Tour.
Two and a half months of touring? Check. Almost a month of wedding singing? Check. There is only one week until the “first day of school,” A.K.A. the first rehearsal of your biggest show yet. No better way to celebrate than a lunch at Five Napkin burger, followed by a delicious Schmackary’s cookie.
You take the first mouth-watering bite of a classic chocolate chip cookie when your phone buzzes. You maneuver the chocolate chip chunk into your left cheek, and proceed to answer the call.
“Hi Megan? This is Paul Hardt from Bodyguard Casting. So, I spoke with your choreographer Karen Bruce yesterday, and she wanted me to let the dancers know that they will be wearing revealing costumes. It’s nothing extreme, but your midriff and other parts will be exposed. She wants to make sure you guys do what you need to do to feel comfortable on stage.”
You finish chewing, and swallow what will be your last Schmackary’s bite for a while.
“No worries at all! Can’t wait to get started! Thank you Paul!”
Wow. It was pretty obvious during the audition process that this show will require you to be in top physical shape, but you didn’t expect a phone call with a reminder. You have to make sure you are in your prime inside and out. You have a week to jump start a healthier path. Ready, set, go.
The alarm sounds at 7:30 am. It’s the morning of your first day of school. You primp with a full face of makeup. You look exactly how you did during the audition process. Normally, if you were going to spend 10am-6pm dancing, you wouldn’t want to cake it on so much, but this isn’t any ordinary rehearsal. Slip on those new Nike leggings, zip up that fitted track jacket to show the figure you’re working on, and strut to 42nd Street with a newfound confidence. It’s all in you.
The elevator door opens, and a rush of excited nerves dance through your bloodstream. You’re in the big studios in the middle of Time Square! To your surprise, there’s a pack of press waiting to get the group shot of the original US cast of The Bodyguard First National Tour. After only doing non-union tours, you forget that you have more than 9 days to learn a show. You had no idea the first day of rehearsals was mostly introductions, press, and the first read through of the show. Had you known that, you probably wouldn’t have worn a full on track suit to be photographed in.
After a breakfast spread, a live Facebook video that introduced every individual involved in the production, and a pep talk from the producers, you’re in the heart of the first read through. You spent a good chunk of your childhood jamming to Deborah Cox hits with your big brother. Never did your 7 year-old self ever think you would be sitting in a semi-circle around a piano listening to Miss Cox sing 15 Whitney Houston songs. It’s taking everything in you to hold back the tears of pure joy, wishing your brother was sitting next to you. This is a moment in time you will always remember.
Walking back to the train, you can’t help but smile while reflecting on the end of a breezy, enjoyable first day. It will probably be your last semi-easy day of rehearsal. In one week, you will be learning all of the big dance numbers. Embrace the calm before the storm. Let your body breathe. Get a good night sleep. Tomorrow, you attack “Queen of the Night.”
It’s Friday, and you have learned “Queen of the Night” and “I’m Every Woman” the two biggest numbers in the show. Spanning over four minutes each, they feel like complete marathons. In addition to each number demanding extreme physicality, the ladies sing backup as they flip, twirl, and run across stage. This number includes a lot of new tricks that look amazing, but take a lot of focus from you and your partner. At the end of “Queen of the Night” you are actually sprinting across stage to get into a line with the rest of the ladies to start jumping while singing the chorus of the song. In “I’m Every Woman” you harmonize while being pressed over your partner’s head. Because of this, you both need to build a new level of trust and cooperation to pull these tricks off 8 shows a week.
Some of these tricks are already taking a toll on your body, but you have been diligent about taking care of yourself. You prep for every rehearsal by arriving at least 45 minutes early to do a proper warmup. If you don’t have to teach right after rehearsal, you head to the gym your friend works at to use the hot tub and cold pool. You religiously foam roll, stretch, and do whatever it takes to stay ahead of an injury, or so you think.
It’s Saturday. Your last day of the first week. Tomorrow you get a day to fully heal your body for another week of monster physicality. You continue to stretch 15 minutes before the start of rehearsal. Your leg rests up on the barre and you’re overlooking the heart of Time Square. You feel a slight pain in your groin, but you chalk it up to being sore. You’ve been so great about taking care of yourself. Rub some Tiger Balm on the pain, and push through the last day. You can rest tomorrow.
Standing in front of your partner, you learn the choreography to “How Will I Know.” This choreography is a walk in Central Park compared to the two flashy numbers. You do a body roll that ends in a slight lift of the knee. This move should be one of the simplest moves in this show, but every time you lift your right knee, the pain in your groin gets worse. It’s getting to the point where you feel the pain in every step. Hesitantly, you sit down. You know it’s what’s best for your body. There’s a moment of fear that the creative team might consider replacing you. You take some deep breaths, wipe your face, and continue learning what you can from watching your cast-mates execute every move. At least you’ve learned all of the hard stuff. You can drill these new moves in your own time.
Sunday morning, you limp to the Urgent Care up the street. You sit in the patient seat while the doctor has you execute a series of positions. After testing your range of motion, they’ve concluded that you pulled your groin. You will have to sit out of the entire second week of rehearsals.
This is so embarrassing. Who sits out after the first week?
When you enter the studio on Monday and reveal the diagnosis, your eyes widen at how supportive the creative team and your cast-mates are. The unnecessary pressure you have forced upon your shoulders has lifted. So what if you have to sit out this week? You’ve learned the hard stuff, and you’ve had to learn shows from the back of the studio before. When you swung your first tour, you had 20 minutes of being put into the dance rehearsal with the rest of the cast. Take great notes, do what you can to rest and treat your injury, and think positive thoughts. Your mind has a big influence on your healing process. It really is all in you.
Its been a month since you performed your way through final callbacks. You have a new manager rooting for you, you’ve formed new relationships with big choreographers in the industry, and you are rehearsing for your second tour in LA. It’s a good feeling to have so many positive distractions from not knowing if you got the job.
It’s your first time rehearsing a show in LA. Rehearsals are held at Abby Lee Dance Company Los Angeles. After years of watching “Dance Moms” on the couch, you are now in the room where it happens. It’s a great boost. After being told, “you can’t keep up with LA dancers,” you are proving that you can. You are on a ten-minute break laughing with your new tour family when your phone buzzes. You step away from the group to answer the call.
“Hi, Megan? This is Paul from casting. I’m calling regarding The Bodyguard. Do you have an agent/manager that we can get in contact with?”
“Yes! I’ll send you his email address and phone number now!”
“Great. Thank you, Megan. I’ll be in touch.”
You immediately start jumping around and rolling on the floor. This has to mean you got the job! If you got it, that means you only have a month between closing this tour, and starting rehearsals for The Bodyguard. That is the performers’ DREAM—CONSISTENT WORK. You’ve never known what it feels like to have two jobs lined up one right after the other.
Your new friends notice your sudden outburst of excitement. They ask about the call, and you tell them your theory of having the job. You reiterate that nothing is set in stone. You explain what this opportunity means to you. Most of these dancers don’t do much theater, so you explain what audition life in NYC is like. The more they learn, the more they cheer you on. It’s an amazing feeling to have their support. They’re crossing their fingers for you. As the break ends, you all step back into the studio. There is a lot of choreography to learn in a short amount of time. It’s a new style of dancing for you, so you have to stay extra focused. Regroup, breathe, and stay present.
The next day, you receive a voicemail from your manager.
“Hey Megan! I’m just checking in to see how rehearsals are going. Since you are in LA I wanted to see if you had time to grab lunch or dinner! I’d love to touch base on a few things. Give me a call when you get a chance! Talk soon!”
You hope he’s heard from Paul. Regardless, it’s so refreshing to have a representative that makes time for you. Someone who makes time to discuss the steps to take in order to pursue your dreams. Someone who wants to understand who you are as a performer and person. It’s important to be on the same page. It’s important for you both to want the same things. After all, If you’re not working, no one is making money.
You plan for dinner with Gregg, your manager, after rehearsal tomorrow. Until then, You need to focus on memorizing every step of this new show. Drill the choreography now so you can take a break at dinner tomorrow night.
It’s 6:30 on a Thursday night. You hop in an Uber and head to dinner. When you get to the restaurant, you see your manager. He always has the most welcoming smile when you see him. His positive energy is one of the many reasons you want to work with him. You two grab a table outside and settle into your seats. As you sit across from him, you notice a shift in his smile. His arms hug into his sides as a look of boiling secrecy spreads across his face. Before he even opens his mouth, you prepare for what he’s about to say.
“So, I called you for dinner because we need to discuss some things. You, my dear, have been cast as an Ensemble Member in the First National Tour of The Bodyguard the Musical! YOU DID IT! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Rehearsals will start October 17th…”
Tears of pure joy trickle from the corners of your eyes. There’s this adrenaline shock that almost sends shivers through your body. Your heart feels like a seed that is blooming into the most beautiful red rose. It fills your chest as you begin to sit with the posture of pride. You can still hear the sound of Gregg’s voice as he continues to list all of the wonderful details included on your next big journey. Seeing his smile, and hearing his excitement creates this smile like one of a cartoon character’s that spreads passed it’s cheeks. This is the job you have been waiting for. This job will give you your Equity Card. You will officially be a member of the Actors Equity Association. This means an increase in pay, benefits, better contracts, and so much more.
Absorb it all.
“Gregg, I can’t thank you enough for handling my contract! Real quick, I have to call my parents and tell them the news!’
You call your mom and put the phone on speaker. You make sure your dad is present, and tell them both this life-changing news. You can hear the amount of pride they have bursting through the phone. Hearing this intensifies each emotion currently flowing through your veins. You have been fortunate enough to have parents that encourage you to work towards your goals. There aren’t enough people in this world that look at the arts as a realistic place to get a job. Your parents understand the effort it takes, and the rewards that come with doing what you love.You can’t ask for anything more.
After a positively eventful dinner, you give Gregg the biggest hug, and Uber your way back to your temporary apartment. On the way there, you begin to reflect on the last 4 years. You were a junior in college when you booked your first tour. A 19-years old cast as the only female swing. After 7 months, 80 cities, and 48 one nighters on a crazy roller coaster of a show, you walked away as a 20-year old with many new skills to take back with you to college. You earned your BFA in Musical Theater in only 3 years.This prepared you to do shows at credible, equity Regional Theaters, but you were still a non-union actor. You did double the work for half the pay. The reward was the experience of learning from seasoned professionals, and earning points towards your equity card. You are a proud Equity Membership Candidate who was convinced that she would spend many years working show-after-show to earn each point. 25 points later, you are cast in a show that will be giving you your full membership.
The Bodyguard will rehearse in NYC and open at Papermill Playhouse. The show will sit there for 6 weeks. In that time, you will have to remain a non-union actor, but the very first day the tour officially launches, you will receive your card and the benefits that come with it. Since you will be living in NYC for two months making non-union money, you will probably have to continue teaching a few fitness classes after rehearsal. You have to be smart with your money. Rent isn’t cheap. Continue to budget and save during this tour and the month you will have free before the next round of rehearsals.
You slow down the endless thoughts racing through your mind. You arrive at the apartment. The future thoughts can rest as you reprogram yourself into the now. Do a quick choreography review, shower, and get some rest. You have an entirely different show that you currently need to focus on. You can’t help but think, “Two shows back to back. Wow. It’s shocking how all of your hard work has paid off.” In this moment, you’ve never felt more driven. Tonight, you sleep with pride.
Your 3:30am alarm goes off. Yesterday was a blur. The audition hangover is real. You can’t afford a rest day after missing a shift for the initial audition. Put a smile on, shove your headphones in, and hop on the train from Astoria to the Upper West Side. Someone has to get the fitness center open by 5:30am.
It’s 11:00am and your shift ends. Luckily, you’ve had work to distract you from the ongoing ‘what-ifs’ dancing through your mind. Now it’s prime time. Your phone could buzz at any moment saying you have a call back. In your daydreams, you are swiping right to answer the call saying you got the job. If you receive a call, you know where you stand.
At this point, you have grown accustom to never hearing anything from anyone. You have to forget about all the work you put into each audition. In three months Playbill will release an article announcing the full cast of the next big show. In reality, you have nothing to lose. Your agent just dropped you. They told you that “your dancing is a 7 and it needs to be a 10. You won’t be able to keep up with the LA dancers.” They said some big casting teams in NYC don’t want to bring you in for any new auditions. When you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.
Your phone rings.
“Hi, Megan? Hi this is Paul calling on behalf of The Bodyguard. We’d like you to come back tomorrow at 11am for final callbacks. Are you available?”
“Absolutely! Thank you so much. I will see you tomorrow!”
You immediately start mentally reviewing all of the choreography you’ve learned while you race towards the N train. In the midst of the excitement you call your mom to tell her the good news. You are pretty intuitive when it comes to knowing where you stand during an audition process. You can’t ignore that feeling of having the job in the bag, but again, you never know what can happen. Sometimes you are just not what they want or need for reasons you cannot control.
Now time to race home, teach your evening Hip Hop Cardio Class, get someone to cover half of your morning shift, and rest up for tomorrow.
3:30am déjà vu. You still have to go in to work until 10am. Luckily, you are up early enough to get to the gym and use the studio mirrors to do your audition makeup before your shift. On a normal day, you would never wear so much make up so early in the morning. When you are rocking a full face at 5:30 am, most of the members at the fitness center know there is an audition you have prepped for. They know your dream, and they support it. They are your cheerleaders. It is the perfect boost before the big day.
10am you rush downtown. You are at Pearl Studios by 10:30. You are warm from the race to arrive on time, so you immediately start stretching. You are surrounded by the typical audition circles: You have the few that seem to be giving themselves a ballet class in the corner; the few ladies at the most convenient outlet to curl their hair; the few beside them doing their makeup; the clump of people happily stretching amongst friends; and the circle boasting their latest addition to their resume playing “who knows who” in the industry. Each group shares their moment of speculation of what’s to come in this audition process.
The monitor enters the holding room.
“Hey everyone! Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We will start with everyone coming in to dance ‘Queen of the Night’. Ladies in heels, Men in sneakers. I’ll be back in 5 to call everyone into the studio.”
The speculation sizzles, and everyone properly preps for round 4. Most groups start reviewing together one last time. The men begin to drill together since their choreography is slightly different from the women.
“Alright everybody, the team is ready for you to come into the studio.”
The clicking heels and squeaking sneakers enter the studio— a familiar sound. A brief review is followed by the grouping of names. This is everything you have already done with less bodies surrounding you. You know all too well that this day will be an exact replica of the first audition day. Same content with more focus on each individual.
You only have two chances to prove that you deserve to dance in the final round. As you dance to “Queen of the Night,” you embody the queen in you. You don’t look like anyone else around you. The choreographer said she didn’t want cookie cutter musical theater dancers. She wants strong individual dancers. Your luck is giving you a leg up. Although this feels incredible, you can’t help but think, “Am I what they want? Am I what they need?”
You push down those thoughts and finish with a bang in the last group of women.
“Thank you ladies. Men your turn— Shirts off.”
You’re glad you’re not them. The creative team is emphasizing the importance of a strong physique. Each man has to be more chiseled than the next. It’s obvious they expect the same from the women, but they are more sensitive to how that would impact them. It’s difficult to be gentle to those who don’t fit a mold specific to a show. Those who have been properly trained to handle such pressure do a better job of dealing with such matters, but actors are human. You have to learn to love yourself harder than anyone else can.
“Amazing work everyone. Unfortunately, we can not keep all of you. We will be making one last cut. Women, if we call your name you will need to sing once more. Men, if I call your name we will give you until the women are finished singing to rest. Get ready to do the salsa number you learned the other day. Naomi Walley, Gina Moore, Ashley Bell, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
Your smile brightens. Your heart is full. You have officially made it to the end. Stay focused.
You finish singing the same two songs from the other day, and head back into the holding room. It dawns on you that your partner from the other day hasn’t been here all day. Luckily, you have all of your footwork under your belt. You are ready for anybody. As you scan the room you realize the women are out numbered. It’s the ladies’ turn to work overtime. 7 ladies, 14 men. Each lady gets two partners. More chances to prove yourself. Things just keep looking up.
“Ok everyone, we’re ready for you.”
One last strut into the studio of opportunity. A speedy review is followed by the final shot and ends with the applause for completing an exhausting process.
“Thank you for your time and hard work, everyone. We’ll be in touch if necessary.”
You can’t wait to call your parents to tell them how well the day went. Once that conversation is over just forget all about this show. It’s for your own good. You’ve been booked on a two and a half month summer tour. Be present. Focus on what you already have. What is for you, will not pass you.
It’s almost 2pm. The men flood into the holding room. They begin to prep for their first round of dancing. You have two rounds under your belt, and an hour and a half before you have to come back and warm up for round 3. Time for a light lunch.
After eating just enough to refuel without slipping into a food coma, you step back into the holding room. The leftover ladies join the remaining men. Your headphones are in. You are listening to your “Calm” playlist. You breathe into your zone as you place your bag down on one of the chairs that surround the studio. You stretch into a split on the studio floor. As your eyes wander, you notice there seems to be more women than men. The men will be working overtime during this partnering call. While the creative/casting team shovel their lunch in 15 minutes, the monitor walks in.
“Hey everyone! The creative team wants the ladies to wear heels. You will be learning a salsa combination. We’ll call everyone in as soon as the team is ready.”
4pm hits and you file back into the studio surrounded by every eager auditionee. The team is still behind a table at the far end of the studio. To your right, the mirrors are still foggy from the heat and sweat pouring out of the dancers that have given their all throughout the day. You step into a line formed shortest to tallest. Ladies line up side by side in front of the men. Now facing the mirror, you begin to eye the men behind you. Each man will partner two ladies that best match their height. You have to pay extra close attention since you won’t be working with your partner consistently. Focus on retaining the foot work. The man has to lead. If he’s a good partner, he will guide each move using the correct signals. The creative team will be able to tell who is leading, and who is following. If they notice you trying to lead the man, they will see you as an uncooperative partner, and there goes the job.
This combination is much faster than you anticipated, but you luck out with a great partner. The team watches interactions between every pair in the room. They see that you are personable and easy to work with. You continuously follow and support your partner. This is the first time you have ever met this guy, and you are trusting his hands with your body. The dance ends with you sitting on his shoulder as he walks in a circle. A lot can go wrong. Everyone’s getting tired. He’s lifting two of you over and over again. You are doing a great job of pulling your weight no matter how run down you have become over the last 11 hours of being awake and on the go. If you both want the job, you have to keep it together. Feeding off of adrenaline, you continue to drill alone and swap sweat as you share your partner with another woman. You can’t wait for a long shower.
It’s almost 5pm. “Alright everybody, take another minute to work through the number with each partner, and then we will call you up two couples at a time.”
You have two chances to get this right. The men get four. If he misses a step, you have to try your best to keep going without leading him. Above all, breathe. You have been doing some really great work all day. Just a little longer to go. Don’t let the momentum slip now.
You join your fellow dancers in a clump along the right side of the studio. You review each step as you go. You look to your left, and your partner is there. He gives you a nod, and an assuring pat on the back. Everyone eagerly waits to be called up to the center of the studio.
“Up next we’ll have Allie Donaldson and her partner downstage, and Megan Elyse Fulmer and her partner upstage.”
You and your partner grab hands and walk to your spot in the center. Immediately, you two get into the zone. There is a lot of intro music, and the choreography is intimate. You begin free styling a moment of just meeting in the club, connecting on the dance floor, and doing your own salsa steps. After all, you two did just meet each other an hour ago. Your story line isn’t far from reality.
You two are killing it! You feel so free as he guides you into every step. There is something so liberating about being spun around and swept off your feet. Before you know it, you are already on his shoulder spinning, truly feeling like you are “every woman”.
“Awesome you guys. Now switch positions. Allie and Brendon upstage, Megan and Jason downstage.”
You already nailed the combination one time. You know you can do it again. Out of the corner of your eye, you can see the team truly taking interest in you. You can feel their serious consideration of putting you in this show. Just one more. You are every woman. It’s all in you.
The intro music plays, and you appear to have the same backstory, but with totally different moves. It’s still within the style of the rest of the dance. You guys got this.
You two start off strong, but his foot work slips from his mind. As you two continue to hold eye contact, you give him the nod of reassurance. In your mind you tell him “It’s ok. We’ll keep it going,” and you can see he got the hint. No matter what, you must let him lead. You trust that he can get it together. With that energy, he pulls through and you make it through the last four 8 counts. Before you know it, you’re back on his shoulder feeling more confident than ever about all of the hard work you’ve put in today.
“Thank you guys! Next two partners.”
You two head to the far right corner of the room hand in hand.
“Sorry I got tripped up. You’ve been an awesome partner.” he whispers.
“No problem at all. You’re a great partner as well. I’m glad we got to work together.”
As the last four couples dance, you feel this release. Your body is telling you to start relaxing already, but your mind is telling you not to get too comfortable. The team could ask you and your partner to do the combination again once everyone else has danced. If they call you back another day, you will most likely be doing this choreography again. Keep drilling it so that you wont forget it tomorrow or the next day. The rule of thumb: always be present.
“Thank you all for the work you’ve done today. We will be in touch with you if we need anything else. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Applause ripples through the studio. Everyone grabs their waters and towels and makes their way back to the holding room. Almost everyone takes their turn to nod their head and say “thank you” to the creative team.
As you enter the holding room, the energy softens. It’s as if everyone just took a deep breath in and released it in unison. Some people are mentally preparing themselves for the fact that they still have to work tonight. Some people had to find someone to cover their shift last minute because they didn’t want to risk missing the call back. Some people had to take that risk. There is rent to pay. They missed this round to run to the restaurant they’re hostessing at, hoping this doesn’t ruin their chances of being considered for the show. You can relate. Luckily you got your morning shift covered at your first job, but you still have a Zumba class to teach in an hour. Take one more breath, pack your bags, change your clothes, and forget about all of this until after your class. Review the choreography for a bit before bed, but don’t get too caught up. Although everything went so well today, there are no guarantees. The waiting game has commenced.
You did it. You made it through the first round as a Non-Equity woman at an ECC. A victory, but no need to get comfortable.
You don’t know how many hours you have left today, or how many days will proceed this initial call. You don’t know how many names the creative team kept from groups of dancers before you. This isn’t exclusive yet. There is a lot to prove. Get back into the holding room, go through your binder of music, flip to your “pop/rock” section, and decide which 16/32 bars will fit the style of the show. What song will showcase your vocal abilities? There seems to be about 30 women before you. Drink some water, warm up those vocal chords, and breathe.
As you wait for the monitor to call your name again, the women begin to line up ten at a time. Each woman walks back into the studio, and sings their 30-second solo. Those 30 seconds determine whether or not you move forward in the audition process. You have to show off your range. You have to make sure you are acting, telling the story of the song you selected as you sing. Even before you sing, you must remember to be personable when you enter the room. This may be the first time the casting/creative team hears you speak. This is the team’s moment to find out if you are someone they’re willing to spend 8 hours a day with during the rehearsal process. You know you’re easy to work with, so all you have to do is be yourself. Simple enough…right?
“Next group of ladies to line up and sing will be as followed….”
The monitor calls your name. You’re 8th in line. More waiting. You listen to the women before you. At this point, you see the same ladies at every audition. When there is so much waiting throughout the audition process, there is plenty of time to get to know most of the women you are surrounded by. You listen to your friends, or your audition buddies, sing their hearts out. You share the “break a leg” before they enter, and give them the “get it girl! you sounded great!” when they exit. When you find solid friends at auditions, it’s no longer a cat fight assisted by side eye. You have found a tight-knit group of women that encourage each other to succeed. This business is already hard enough. If you’re not going to get the job, you want to see your friends shine. You have watched them work just as hard as you have. All of our hard work has to pay off for someone, somewhere.
“Megan Elyse Fulmer, you’re next.”
Here we go. Just a couple more steps, and once again, you are in. The door closes behind you, and there are five members of the creative/casting team at the other end of the studio. As they sit behind the table, they’re hoping you’re worth listening to for 30 seconds. The team really does want you to succeed. They want you to be incredible. They want to hire their perfect cast sooner than later. After all, we’re getting close to summer, and the sun is shining. If we’re going to spend 10am-6pm in the studio, we want to already be working on the heart of the show.
You walk over to the pianist they’ve provided to accompany you. You have clearly marked your music. Your markings indicate where you want him to start playing your intro music, where you will start singing, and where you would like to end your cut of the song. You lightly tap your leg and softly sing along, so that he knows at what tempo (how fast, or slow) you would like him to play the song. You don’t want to snap or clap the beat in his face. Again, be personable, not demanding.
“Hi Megan. What will you be singing for us today?” You take a breath and smile. “I will be singing, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt”. The team smiles back. “Great! Whenever you’re ready.”
You take one more breath, you nod at the pianist, and he starts to play. You’re in the moment. You are singing every word as if it were a monologue. It’s as if you are thinking of these words yourself. You are saying each word as if for the very first time. The words fuel your objective within the context of this piece of music. This objective drives your action. The action fills you with emotions. The emotion is controlled enough so that you do not overwhelm the voice. Your sound is clear, and you don’t miss a note.
“Thank you Megan. Beautiful work. Do you have something contrasting? More uptempo?”
You walk back to the piano, and flip through your music. You have memorized every song in your audition binder, so choosing another will be a piece of cake. You just hope it’s what the team had in mind.
“Would, “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King work for you?”.
You reset the tempo, reset where you will start/finish, and you are ready for round two. After getting the first song over with, and feeling some positive energy from the creative team, you get to really let loose, have fun, and just perform! You can’t wait for your next chance to do what you love everyday, and get paid for it! These could be the people that give you that chance. That freedom, that passion, that love you’re feeling as you sing is in their hands.
“Really Great work Megan. Hang outside for a bit, and we’ll let you know if we need anything else from you today.”
Five minutes later, the monitor returns to the holding room.
“Hey ladies, if I call your name, the creative team would like you to come back at 4pm to dance again. You will be joining the men, and you’ll be doing some partner work. When I call your name, let me know you’re still here. If you have any conflicts, and are unable to attend the 4pm call, come see me. Natalie Wills, Michelle Summers, Becca Lee, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
Up at 5:30am. Downtown by 7:00am. Female dancers start at 10:00am. Will you even get seen?
It’s 9:30am on a Wednesday. There are roughly 125 women on the *Non-Equity list. Some of these women may be an *Equity Membership Candidate, but that doesn’t mean anything when you’re all trying to crash the *Equity Chorus Call. At this time, all of the Equity women are strolling into the holding room lining up to take their numbers. You don’t get that luxury when you’re not a member of the *Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). You have to be at the studio by 7:00am if you want a decent number on the Non-Equity list. You know the women fresh out of college, or currently working towards their B.F.A in Musical Theater, started a Non-Equity list at 4:00am. They’ve also put their girlfriend’s names on the list. With that in the back of your mind, you’re hoping to at least be #40 by 7:15am. You hope that whoever is casting/creating the show has additional time to see women who are not yet members of the Actors’ Equity Association. You hope that the monitor overseeing the holding room honors what they call the ‘unofficial’ list—the list you woke up at the crack of dawn to sign up for.
As you primp, stretch, and breathe into your zone, the monitor begins to run down the names on the AEA list. Half of the list is washed away due to no-shows, and a quarter of the names are bumped to the bottom of the list, because they missed their name being called by a minute. After already waiting two-and-a-half hours to find out if you’ll have the chance to dance for a job—you’re in luck. The creative team has decided to see as many Non Union women as possible, AND they are honoring the unofficial list. You will still be #28, and if you’re lucky, there will be no-shows, and you will be seen a little sooner than you anticipated. As hope swirls through your mind, the 10:00am equity group leaves the holding room and enters the audition studio.
Another hour goes by…
You hear the music in the next room, wondering what each step will be. Will there be a lot of turning? Will your shoes be too sticky to do a bunch of turns? Are there high kicks? Are your hamstrings warm enough for that? Is the choreography fast? Are they teaching the choreography at a pace where you can retain each step? Am I toned enough? Am I What They’re Looking For?
The fourth hour hits, and they announce what Non-Equity women will be called in to dance. The last two groups of Equity women were in the audition room longer than the creative team had anticipated. Only 25 Non equity women will be called in to join the last group of Equity dancers. You start to pack your bags because you’re three numbers short, but suddenly, you’re in luck once more. Four women above you are no-shows. You gather your headshot/resume, you stretch out one last time, and do some deep breathing—you’re in.
Once in the room, the nerves flutter. You hear the wisdom of your college professors ringing in your ears, “You are all soup. You’re Campbell, she’s Progresso, and that other girl is Lipton. You all have your brand. What is your secret ingredient that will make me buy your soup?” What can you bring into the room that the other 250 women can’t? Regardless, when’s the last time you actually performed on stage? What was your last contract? Has it been a while? Well guess what, this creative team, and these casting directors are your audience. This is just another chance to perform. Worse comes to worse, you got a free dance class this morning. You don’t get the Equity discount at Broadway Dance Center. $20 a class adds up. You’re happy you took advantage of all those dance classes in college.
After shaking off your first wave of nerves, you get back in the zone. You’re focused on retaining every move. You absorb as many details as you can. You listen to every bit of information the Assistant Choreographer is giving to you. You get as close as you can to looking “show ready”. After thirty minutes of learning a two-minute dance combination, they say, “You have four, eight counts of improv.” You get about 30-seconds to freestyle, and bring your personal flavor to the combination. You can do what you want, but keep this in mind: For this show, the creative team has asked that you bring an edge to whatever you do. They want women who can dance just as hard as the men. They don’t want you to try to be sexy. The sexy is in the power—think Beyoncé, not Britney.
It’s go time. They will call four people at a time. Each group of four has two chances to nail the choreography. You close your eyes and review each step, as the groups before you perform. You may take a peak to see what other people do. You see some things you like, and some moves you don’t. You take mental notes of what seems to work, and what doesn’t. Luckily, you’ve had a bit of time to get grounded before putting yourself out there. You have some tricks up your sleeve to show you can dance next to the guys. You know you have the power this team is looking for.
Here we go!
After nailing each step, you wait. You’re feeling great, but you know not to get your hopes up. This has happened before. You’ve been in rooms where you know you’ve rocked the audition, but you learn you look too much like the director’s ex-girlfriend, so you won’t be going any further in the audition process. The director doesn’t need that constant reminder of the woman who broke his heart. Whether you are two inches too short, you have the wrong hair color, or you don’t have enough Instagram followers, you’re prepared to say, “thank you” and gracefully exit the room. 8/10 times, you didn’t get the job for reasons you can’t control. You can find peace in that.
As the creative/casting team deliberates in the far corner of the room, the rest of you talk amongst yourselves. Banter rooted in butterflies. Two minutes to pretend you’re having a casual conversation on the N, Q, R. The banter breaks, and silence stirs. “Thank you to everyone who has given up their morning to dance for us. If we call your name, you will be asked to stay and sing a 16 bar cut of a pop/rock song. If your name is not called, again, we thank you for your time.”
“Julia Brooks, Lauren Strauss, Amanda Lee Tucker, Ashley Marx, Megan Elyse Fulmer…”
* Actors’ Equity Association (AEA): The labor union representing American Actors and Stage Managers in the theatre.
* Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): The third way one gets an equity card is through the "Equity Membership Candidate Program". In this program, actors are allowed to work in Equity productions as credit towards eventual membership. For each week you perform under an Equity contract, you earn 1 point. You need 25 points to earn full membership into the Actors Equity Association.
* Equity Chorus Call (ECC): An open call for dancers, or singers, that allows Equity actors to audition for the chorus of a production.
* Non-Equity (Non-union): A performer who is not yet a member, or candidate, of AEA.