If you're looking for your first Broadway contract, getting your foot in the door is tricky. Auditions are structured to prioritize members of the Actors' Equity Association, the union for stage professionals. There are several ways to become a member: Sign a contract for an Equity show; be a member of a sister union, like AGMA or SAG-AFTRA; or accrue "Equity points" by working at specific theaters for at least 25 weeks. But in the meantime, dancers face serious challenges.
Getting Seen Isn't Guaranteed
When a show holds an Equity chorus call (known as an ECC), union members are guaranteed to be seen. Non-Equity dancers can attend but are given the chance to try out at the creative team's discretion and only if time allows once all Equity members have been seen.
"I remember times where I would sit for hours," says Tommy McKiernan, who later got his Equity break with the national tour of Seussical. "I'd have to frantically text someone to cover my shift at work." On some days, McKiernen would finish bartending after midnight, wake up at 4 am to audition and stay there all day, only to have the moderator announce that they wouldn't be seeing non-Equity dancers. When multiple auditions he was interested in fell on the same day, it was impossible to predict which calls might have time for non-Equity dancers.
The First to Arrive Isn't Always First to Audition
Before the Equity monitor arrives, there's no set system that decides audition order for non-Equity performers. The first dancer to show up (many hours before the ECC starts) often creates an unofficial sign-up sheet. But because the list is unofficial, there can be issues. That's what former Disney Cruise Line dancer Sarah Cooper learned when she went to an ECC for Wicked. "A friend and I got there early and signed up as numbers seven and eight," she says. "Whoever volunteered to transfer the list threw it out and started their own so they could be first to audition. We ended up as numbers 80 or 90."
You May Wait With No Warm-up Space
At Equity calls, union members are given priority to holding rooms and warm-up areas. If there isn't enough space, non-Equity dancers must wait elsewhere. If your name is called and you don't hear it, you miss your chance. "There were auditions I didn't even warm up for because I was afraid of missing my name," Sarah Cooper says. "I would just pray there wouldn't be a battement in the combo."
When Timothy Cooper started auditioning, he got yelled at for trying to use a restroom reserved for Equity members. "I had to go all the way downstairs just to use the bathroom," says Cooper, whose credits include the U.S. tour of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.
Are We Asking Too Much of Dancers?
Non-Equity members sacrifice time and money—often missing shifts at their survival jobs—in hopes of being seen at an ECC. "You put all your energy into something that very likely won't work out," says Paige Grimard, who got her Equity card after a friend connected her to an off-Broadway callback. If you do make it into the room, "the Equity dancers clearly know everyone," says Grimard. "When you see a dancer hug the choreographer you think, What am I even doing here?" She now tries to make Broadway hopefuls feel welcome. "I remember how taxing it all is, so the very least I can do is be encouraging."
Most Broadway dance calls are Equity chorus calls, but they're not the only way to get cast.
• Non-Equity calls for non-Equity shows. A note of caution: They're usually packed because of the number of nonunion dancers.
• Agency-connected auditions. These are held specifically for dancers whose agents recommend them. If your agent gets you in the room, you've got a shot at being seen even as a non-Equity performer.
• Work your connections. If you have a friend involved or you've worked with a choreographer who's doing the show, you might get to attend the callback of an ECC without an Equity card.