How tough is it for a non-union actor?

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Being an actor is awesome.

You get to be everything you ever wanted to be when you were young: an astronaut, a ballerina, a forest ranger … and you’re a new thing every day.  Being an actor is fun.  Being an actor is easy.  Okay – that’s all pretty much a lie.  I don’t say it to scare you, just to clarify and specify the truth.

As an actor you do get to play different roles (doctor, lawyer, drug dealer) and those parts can change day to day (or week to week or month to month), but in all reality, landing role after role after role is limited and controlled by the Actors’ Equity Association (The actors’ union).

I’m sure AEA is a great union and takes good care of its actors, but I wouldn’t know because AEA is a Catch-22 to break into:  You have to land a union role to be in the union, but you have to in the union to audition for the union role.  See: Fun and Easy – Not.

What do you do when you’re not in the union?  Do your own non-equity work and don’t get paid for your craft.  (Fun and Easy – Not).

No, silly – you auditon for union shows if/when you can.  How do you achieve the impossible?  (It’s Fun and Easy …).

Wake up at 5:30am.  Shower.  Dress.  Curl your hair.  Don’t put your make-up on (yet).  Grab a 6 a.m. train to Times Square.  Stand in the rain, snow, sleet, heat, and humidity for an hour and a half.  Finally enter the Equity Building holding your ID up to your face.  Let them take a ghastly photo of your un-made-up face.

Sit on a hard wooden bench in the hallway (only Equity actors can sit in the Equity lounge).  Watch the Equity actors get called and seen by the casting directors.  Put your make up on.  Wait for hours.  Ask to use the restroom.  Be referred to the McDonald’s restroom downstairs (only Equity members can use the restrooms in the Equity lounge).  Wait for more hours.  Go on the lunch break (there’s a McDonald’s downstairs).  Come back.  Wait for more hours.  Don’t get seen by the casting director (get released before your can be seen by the casting director).  Go to your restaurant job and convince yourself (and the table you’re waiting on) that you’ll definitely be seen tomorrow.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Okay, it can make for a rotten disappointing day and it can waste your time.There are alternatives to this:

Don’t live in NYC, but choose a smaller city (with fewer actors) and audition for their Equity regional theater (these auditions are easier to get into and you’ll be seen after waiting only a couple of hours). Spread yourself between cities – keep hitting NYC’s auditions but make sure you take a day trip to Philly or DC once in awhile to get seen in another place by other people.  Most theaters come to NYC for auditons after they’ve held auditons in their resident cities.  If you think you’ll have trouble being seen in NYC, hit up the theater’s hometown audition first.

Sculpturing helps me stimulate creativity.

Don’t audition for Equity shows as often and (if you can) continue your training by taking classes taught by casting directors.  Create your own original work and invite these casting directors you’ve developed relationships with to see the show.  This way you’re seen by a casting director without worrying about getting into the audition room.  The show serves as a two-hour audition.

Whatever route you choose: Keep auditioning.  Period.  Keep creating work.  Period.  Even if that means sculpting, painting or photographing Central Park – do something to keep stimulating your creative juices and to keep getting yourself out of bed at 5:30am for those Egg McMuffins and wooden bench waits.  (Rinse.  Repeat).

Where to find audition listings for NYC and other regional theaters:

  • (requires a yearly fee that you can split among you and your actor friends – one account, one password, cheap investment).
  • (free)
  • Actors Access (free to be a member, but $2 to submit to any listing)
  • Showfax ($70 for a yearly membership, but you get your own profile – think actor’s Facebook – and free access to all sides and monologues required for auditions).