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Learning to Navigate New York City Audition Season

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Today, Jan 30th 2020, is the first non-concert dance audition I have attended. A few years ago, when attending Axis Connect, I was invited to a final EPA callback, but I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I don't really count that experience since I wasn't diving into it from the beginning of the process.

I'm really grateful for everyone who has helped navigate some of the complexities of jumping into the game. I’d like to shout out Liz Shew and Sierra Barnett amongst many others who were willing to answer my assault of questions.

I will at some point be using some of their knowledge and others as I gain it, hear it and live it and I will be crediting them as such but before I get into that, I’d love to just to give you an opening impression of the morning so far. I woke up this morning sleeping in a little bit later than my usual workday to get up, instead of 4:30am, I got up on my day off at 5am (I’ll admit begrudgingly due to comfort of my pillows, I swear they make themselves more comfortable when you have to go). I should’ve just committed to getting up at my usual time, but I was tired. That wasn’t a total mistake, but I do recognize now, the higher on that non-equity list whether official* or not, the better. You will see I use some terms you may not be familiar with, but don't worry I will explain another day, because it deserves recognition and teaching all its own.

In preparation, I tried to pack all my shoes: heels, jazz shoes, tap shoes, flats just in case. I did so, not knowing what to expect from the creative team behind the table. This morning I put on my outfit and packed three alternatives in case (in case... what decided to roll in red wine??? No not really, but it’s always good to have a few varying looks*. It is better to be safe than sorry).

I was out the door at 6am, when I probably should’ve been putting my name down at that time. Again this will all begin to make more sense when I get deeper into it, but those of you in this world, already know what all this means.

I think one of my big mistakes in my preparation was not realizing I did not have extra copies of my headshot nor did I have an updated theater specific resume printed. So to add to every audition morning's chaos, I also had to find time to get to a CVS or print shop in time. (What I didn't register before the panic set in was that because I was putting my name on a list, easily 3 hours before any audition, I'd have that time after putting my name down to leave and do whatever you needed. I know many dancers who go back home and take a nap before returning to the studio. As long as you come back before they call names, you are okay.)

Back to the first audition morning, after I put my name down on the list, number 77, I started roaming the streets of New York City to find nearest FedEx print shop where I printed out music in case I was called to sing, my theater resume (looked at and guided by Dan Gold), and got as organized as I could. They were out of photo printer paper, but I was lucky I had one last headshot in my folder. Note to self, print more headshots, also get new headshots entirely, you can't get away with this one in these auditions. (Yes, its ridiculous, but it really really does matter).

Anyway, I successfully found a place, got my necessary items and I headed back to Actor's Equity New York City Studios where I proceeded to wait. It is my understanding that as a non-equity dancer, there is a lot of that. A lot of waiting. So I’m sitting in this waiting room with over 80 some girls waiting to be seen then they start to call numbers. Now what I didn't know was all the equity dancers were already upstairs dancing and being seen. Typically, they call down to the monitor* and express if they will see non-equity, how many at a time, etc. Once the equity dancers are done or at least nearing the end, the monitor starts calling names. If you miss your name being called, you missed your audition. So, yes even using the restroom doesn't count. Relieve yourself long before it gets to that point or hold it. I mean it.

So today, at first, they started with adding 10 girls, then after that they began taking groups of 30. You wait for your group to be called, in this case, upstairs. Your number may never get called. But when you do, you go to the designated space (AEA, 16th floor in this case) and wait to be brought into the room. Headshots and resumes, stapled, cut, etc are collected before you go in. And then it is go time. From the minute you give your headshot, you are being watched. You don't know what the combination is, what they want to see, or anything. Some days they will ask you questions, others they will give you improvisation, and others still will just go into choreography, some fast, some slow. (At least today which was an ECC for dancers - equity chorus call for dancers).

Today, for example, we learned maybe seven or eight 8s in about five minutes and then got two opportunities, two chances to perform it in front of the panel, in groups of four. That was it, no ballet class, no technique, your learning style, your energy, your face, and your execution is all you get to be seen for the job. So at 7 AM, I arrived, waited until 11am, maybe dancing for 15 minutes and being done for the day. While that seems like a very short anti-climactic day, it is my understanding that that is very typical.

Part of today was boosted by running into some familiar faces, one of which being Liz, who was the one who told me about the time studios open and how “lists*” worked. I also had the pleasure of seeing Maryella, Dan, Elijah from BoCo and Taylor who I had met about a week and a a half ago in Nick Palmquist’s class. It was such a great addition to my morning to see their faces on a day I felt like I got slapped by NYC Non-equity life.

One thing, I noticed today was dancers ranged in talent, size, age, and experience level. They also ranged in skills sets, some clearly shined in their acting, others in their dancing, I’m sure in singing though that didn’t play into today's experience. Some people making bold acting choices, ad-libbing in the choreography, adding vocals. Some catching your eye in their subtle playfulness. I have to admit, I at first was like “woah too much” but I quickly stopped myself, their artist voice is theirs and this was a different audition world than I knew so I used it as an opportunity to learn and even challenge myself. It was not for me to judge, in fact if anything, to grow from. In that space alone, it made me realize how “somber” concert can be. Not literally but the intensity could take all the air out of the room, but in today’s audition, it had intensity in desire but faces (some more genuine than others) but they were all so committed to their choices, and I realized I wasn’t as engaged in my face. I let my body try to tell it, feeling a little vulnerable “hamming it up”. I wasn’t by any means stone cold in my face, but I definitely could have played more with expression. In recent years, I've let myself stick in subtly unless a character in the concert dancer world asked for more. Between my own intensity and concert dance being (at times) neutral, I think I’ll need to retrain my use of expression a bit. I was always put in big character roles from a young age, but being in the space today, I felt I was doing so much less than everyone else in the space. Like that “you are such an actress on stage” comment I get from everyone post shows, washed away. So before the next audition, I hope to just let loose a little more. Pull from what I’ve been working on in Nick’s class, go bigger and just go for it.

So far this sounds like a long audition getting to witness all this, but honestly each group was in and out on 18minutes. Learn the phrase work in 5 or so minutes, break into groups of four, do it twice, and that was it. That’s how long you had to be seen, to stand out. It was kind of thrilling but I admit, I wanted to be dancing longer, not learning it, but just doing it. I’ve come to a place in my career and life where all I want to do it move and groove. Let me dance, it was something I was going to miss about many concert dance auditions, at least a full barre, if not a full class.

So for a first audition day, here are Day 1 notes:

1. Get your ass out of bed, get your name on that list EARLY, you got lucky this time but might not be next time.

2. Have ALL your materials, shoes, and outfits laid out the night before, (especially if like me, going back to Brooklyn isn’t an option). It helps If you have time to kill, you can go to the gym to get ready, workout/warmup etc. dress the part, within reason.

3. You MUST be in the room when they begin calling names of the “official” or “unofficial” list. * they will pass you by if you don’t say “here” immediately. No exceptions. Aka, not even being stuck on the toilet across the hall will save you.

4. Leave it on the floor and have fun, play and change it up. it’s not always about the step, sometimes they just want to see if they can mold you and play with your acting. But also.... get the step.

5. Don’t beat yourself up, play it off. Have fun.


Also last note, this experience has made me decide that I'm going to be using this as an opportunity to start a blog series about being a total noob in NYC audition season. I'll be covering different topics, both as a place for artist's taking diving into the NYC audition realm like I have but also for those of you who have been rockstar supporters who ask what all the terms are, what it's like, what I do etc. It is a chance to both understand more and also follow along!


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