How to Get Seen at Equity Auditions… It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as our modern definition of work: you get out of school, your fresh little brain just jam-packed with new knowledge that you’re eager to parley into work in your field to earn some sweet, sweet cash just like a real live grown-up. So you go to apply for a job, and lo and behold, you run up against something like: “Five Years of Experience Required.” (One fascinating modern twist on this phenomenon is so-called “entry-level” jobs looking for people with five or more years of experience, but that’s a column for another day and another publication…)
Actors looking to break into Equity roles face a similar conundrum: the most straightforward way to become eligible to join the union is to get hired under an Equity contract. However, auditions for Equity shows will only allow union members to sign up through their online appointment scheduling app.
So…what the huh? How is a poor, but talented and experienced non-Equity performer supposed to take the next step in his or her career and land that coveted Equity contract and begin the process of becoming a member?
First a little background…
Just to define our terms, Equity is the shorthand name for the Actor’s Equity Association or AEA, the union representing around 50,000 live performance actors in the U.S. Much like acquiring a Screen Actor’s Guild card (SAG-AFTRA) for television and film actors, joining Equity is a milestone achievement in a stage actor’s career and signals to casting directors and producers that the actor has (or theoretically should have) a certain level of experience, skill and professionalism when it comes to performing.
Perhaps more importantly, that Equity card unlocks a number of career-enhancing advantages. For one thing, at EPA (Equity Principal Audition) or ECC (Equity Chorus Call) auditions, union members are given first preference and allowed to sign up for time slots in advance. Non-Equity actors must wait in line and sign up on a list that morning to be seen after all the Equity actors have auditioned. Worse still, there’s no guarantee that non-Equity actors will even get a chance to read, even after waiting.
For most actors, the most stressful and difficult part of auditioning isn’t the actual audition itself – that’s the fun bit. No, it’s waking up early and dragging your carcass down the the studio, getting your name on the list and waiting. And then waiting some more.
And of course there’s the money and the benefits: belonging to a powerful union like Equity or SAG guarantees the performer a level of pay and certain standards of working conditions, rules that non-Equity shows can skirt and sometimes exploit to take advantage of performers and crew. (That’s not to say all non-Equity houses are bad or exploitative, not in the least. It’s simply to point out that Equity makes it a lot harder for those things to happen.)
So given these constraints, how are you gonna get your foot in the door and get even a shot at auditioning for an Equity role? Here are a few tips:
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the thing is it’s pretty easy to talk ourselves out of going to an audition even under the best of circumstances. I hate to admit it but there have been days when I woke up to face a cold, grim, chilly morning and getting out of that warm bed to go to an audition was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. And if it’s for an Equity audition where you know in advance you will be waiting with no appointment time and no guarantee you’ll even be seen, sure. Of course the temptation to talk yourself out of it is understandable.
However, the first rule of…well, of everything that’s worth doing is that you have to show up. You’re not likely to encounter some friendly door-to-door Equity contract person coming by your house to offer you a lead role in the next “Hamilton.” The defining characteristic of the careers of 99 percent of actors is struggle, and you’ve got to fight to get where you want to be. The streets of New York and L.A. are scattered with the corpses of the dreams of millions of would-be actors who found that it was just too hard.
But that’s not you: you want this. And you have the passion for performance and for creating the work, so you will do what you have to do to mentally prepare yourself for the audition process and get out of bed and go. Get to sleep early the night before, charge your phone, prepare some healthy snacks to take, bring a script you’re reading or a good book, and walk in the door with the mindset that you might be there a while, but that’s okay.
Get There Early
This might be another seeming no-brainer for this type of situation, but surprisingly many actors fail to arrive early enough. The list that the Equity monitor puts out for non-Equity actors to sign up on takes names in order of arrival. So if the audition is for a show that really interests you, get there early and get a spot in the line. It’s always amusing to see how distraught and puzzled some late-arriving actors can be when they roll in and see how many people are already waiting ahead of them, as if they were the only actor in the city who wanted a role in that show.
Do Some Recon
Actors are by nature and necessity social creatures. Get involved, meet people, go out of your way to say hello to familiar faces you’ve seen at other auditions, and you’re sure to hear the latest scuttlebutt on what else is going on in the world of auditions. If you’re hearing about a big upcoming audition for a prestigious show that has everyone in your circle of non-Equity actors interested, remember that the Equity people will also be showing up in force. That means, unfortunately, that the slots for non-Equity actors to read will be pretty limited or even non-existent due to time constraints. Since you’re having to spend so much time just waiting for the chance to read in order to get that foot in the door on an Equity contract, it’s wise to strategize a little bit. The “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” method of going to every single audition is likely not the optimal strategy in this case. Pick and choose a little more carefully, maybe even deliberately aiming for shows that are a little bit under the radar and you may give yourself a better shot at booking a role.
One semi-secret that a lot of actors don’t know about is that Equity rules require that every production has more than one EPA/ECC audition. If you get turned away on Day 1, ask about Day 2 or even Day 3. Yes, it’s a hassle to go back repeatedly to the same audition, but circle back to tip #1 on this list for motivation!
Take Care of Ya Business
Don’t forget to pack headshots and resumes and have your links to your reel and other information up to date. In this digital age, it’s easy to forget about the importance of hard copy, but there are still tons of casting directors out there who use headshots in this way. Even if you don’t get a chance to read, you may be asked to pass along your headshot for them to consider later on, and you never know what might come of it!
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