If you live in New York, you’ve probably seen it and never known what it was. A long line of fresh looking people, inexplicably early in the morning on the streets of midtown. If you’ve seen such a thing you’ve witnessed one of two things. Either people are lining up for a Cronut, and are worried the supplies will run out (editor’s note: they will, and the earlier you can get there the happier your stomach shall be), or it’s a group of actors getting ready to prove themselves in an audition room.
Being an actor is not the glamorous life many people make it out to be. With so much competition, lines for auditions tend to start around 630am (with some starting as early as 4am!) The auditions tend to start between 9 and 10, so that line is maintained until the audition has begun, and someone has arrived to sign in the line in order. Once these actors are signed in, they have to prepare by warming up their voices in crowded rooms and spaces without bothering anybody, stretching for dance auditions with a hundred other people in the room, and also putting on nice clothes and makeup (for the women). It is the actor’s job to look their best, even though they woke up between 3 and 6am to get to this audition. Let’s not forget that the stereotypical actor’s safety job is waiting tables, and if they’re auditioning all day, then they’re waiting tables all night. Imagine getting up at 430am, going to stand in line until 10am, auditioning between 2 and 5pm, then going to a restaurant and working a full dinner shift. If your restaurant is in midtown, and you live in upper manhattan, Astoria, or Brooklyn (as many actors do) then after you get off work between 11-1am (if not later) you have a 20-60 minute train ride in front of you home. Lather, Rinse, Repeat, every day of the week.
There are different kinds of actors, broken up first into two categories, union actors, and non-union actors. To be a union actor is to join the Actor’s Equity Association, the union for professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States of America. If you are a member of the union, you are required to only take part in union shows (theaters that have contracts with the Actor’s Equity Association). All other theaters are now off limits. For union members auditioning doesn’t get easier, but it does get a little less stressful. For instance there are now three types of auditions, Equity Principal Auditions (EPAs), Equity Chorus Calls for Singers, and Equity Chorus Calls for Dancers. Each has its merits. At an EPA,
you’re generally being considered for principal and understudy roles, whereas at ECCs you’re being considered for the ensemble. These are loose designations, because both places can get you seen for either performance track. Most theaters around the country that are equity hoses have contracts that are for union actors, and then a few actors who are not in the union. For many of those theaters, they give out points towards union status. This is known as the Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) program. For non-union members, they need 50 points (1 point = 1 week of paid work at a union theater) to earn the right to join the union. Alternatively a theater can pay to join an actor early if they so choose.
For non-union actors, EMC status can be very important as at the EPAs mentioned before, any EMC actor will be seen before any non-union actor without any EMC points. Then there are non-union auditions, for theaters and tours without any union status. Those shows cannot hire union actors for roles, and must use the actors outside of the union. In recent years, given the huge expansion of theatre training programs in colleges across the country, the amount of actors has boomed in New York City. An average non-union call will have hundreds of hopeful actors arrive, and similar numbers will arrive for union calls. Those lines you see are the beginning of a very long day for a lot of people.
So next time you find yourself in midtown early in the morning and you see a long line of people without any clear sign of what they’re waiting for, know they’re waiting for an audition for something to further their career, and have a very long day ahead of them. But don’t feel sorry for them, this is what they love to do, and they fight to stay a part of it!