For most people, their only knowledge of what happens in an audition process comes from watching American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance. While those are both entertaining shows, they don’t really reflect the average audition experience…at least not what you would find in most New York theatre.I have been auditioning in this city as a stage actor for over three years now, and in that time I have learned a lot about the process. Over the next several weeks I am going to attempt to explain it all piece by piece.
What follows is the first installment of Auditioning.
1. The Difference Between Union and Non-UnionCalls: First of all, when I say, “the union”, what I mean is Actors Equity Association (AEA or just simply “equity”), or the stage actors union. Open calls (auditions) exist because AEA requires them for every production. The most common type of audition is an EPA (equity principal auditions).
EPAs: Anyone can attend an EPA whether they are in the union or not, but union members get preference, and if you aren’t in the union, you wait at the back of the line.
To give an example, when I was a non-equity actor I once waited for 10 hours to be seen at an audition for Papermill Playhouse. I arrived at 5:00 in the morning, and began my wait. The AEA slots were filled a half hour after sign-ups began, and there was even an alternate list of AEA members. All day new equity members continued to arrive and got in line ahead of me. Even though I had been there since early in the morning, the people who arrived at noon were seen before me. I sang my 16 bars (10-20 seconds) at 3:00 in the afternoon, and went straight to my day job.
If you’ve always wanted more information, here it is:
Non-Union: A non-union call can be even more complicated. Because there is no standard process for these auditions, anything goes.
They tend to be more chaotic, and believe it or not, can be filled with more people than union calls. People arrive at truly insane hours of the morning in order to be the first name on the sign-up sheet.
Usually these sheets are called “unofficial lists” because the actors take it upon themselves to start them. That way, when the doors to the building finally open, and everyone rushes inside to get out of the cold, the people who arrived at 4:30 instead of 4:45 will be sure to be seen first. The auditors (or whoever is calling people into the room for auditions) usually abide by the unofficial list or they would have a mutiny on their hands.
WHY WHY WHY: No matter the type of call, auditioning is tough business. It often requires bringing several changes of clothes, a meal, your book of audition music and materials, and something to keep you busy while you wait. And after all of that, if you finally make it in the room, you sing your 16-bars of music, get a thank you from the auditors and go about the rest of your day.
So why do we do it? Because one morning you may wake up to a phone call from a producer who says “We would love for you to star in our Broadway show!” And at that moment your life changes, making it all worth while.