My Beginners Guide for the Non Union Actor in NYC

Hi Loves, 

Welcome back! This blog is a doozy but I'm so excited to share some of the tips and techniques I've learned over the years as a non union actor in the city. I hope you can use this as a reference for auditions and as an industry how-to. 

I'd like to preface this by saying- every teacher/guide in the city will tell you the same thing- everyone has a different opinion. The things I'm sharing here are just my personal experiences and things that I've found worked or didn't work along the way to hopefully help and give some insight on being a "smart actor." 

I've been on both sides in the room; the auditionee and the auditioner. I've seen hundreds of beautiful auditions and I've seen many that needed some work...including my own. (: I have had the opportunity of interning with a casting agency in the city for the last two years and the knowledge gained through the years is incomparable to any amount of auditioning and a huge resource in my own work. 

 

1 | HOW TO GET AN AUDITION: 

Backstage, Actors Access, and Playbill will be your go to as a Non Union actor in the city.

  • Actors Access is absolutely my first choice when looking at auditions. I try to get as many appointments as possible and I find it easier through AA. I recommend their yearly subscription through Showfax. AA provides breakdowns for both Theater and TV/Film.
  • Playbill is my go to for any and all open calls, ECC's, and EPA's. There are many on there as well that offer email or snail mail with headshot and resume to request an audition. I try to put in all open calls, ECC's and EPA's that I'm right for in my calendar and prioritize from there. Playbill is FREE! 
  • Backstage is my least used source though you can find almost all audition breakdowns and there are many options to submit through the site. It can absolutely be a great resource, but it's just not my personal choice. Backstage also provides breakdowns for both Theater and TV/Film. Backstage offers monthly or yearly subscriptions. 

When looking at auditions, especially if you're brand new to the city, try to audition for everything you're right for (within reason). I'll warn you- it's going to be some trial and error....maybe even a lot of error but don't be discouraged. With every failure there's a lesson learned and the opportunity for growth. Use the failure to grow and learn from the mistakes to become a better, smarter actor. 

2 | WHERE TO AUDITION

Once an audition is booked or you're planning to attend an open call, EPA, or ECC, the breakdown will instruct where the audition is located. The main audition studios in the city include;

Pearl Studios 

Ripley Grier

Shetler Studios

 Actors Equity

Chelsea Studios

  • If having to commute out of the city for an audition be sure to check train times to and from your destination and know the route. Give yourself enough time in case you run into traffic and always email if you're going to be late. Main train lines include the NJ Transit out of Penn Station and the Metro North out of Grand Central. Both easy to navigate with a good understanding of the city. 
  • Most Casting Directors will give some sort of directions for getting to the audition and are understanding with delays. As a personal rule I don't travel unless the expense is covered even for the audition. You should never have to pay to audition and if train fare is out of my pocket I gracefully decline. 

3 | AUDITIONS 

  • Appointments- All Breakdowns will specify what they're looking for and what they expect you to bring. Once selected they will give you an appointment time and location and the specifications for the audition- typically a 16-32 bar cut of something in the style of the show, (more info on audition material below), headshot and resume, you audition book in case they want to see more, sometimes dance shoes, and depending on the show a monologue. It's pretty self explanatory- you go to the location 15 minutes before the time they've given you, you audition with your material, you say thank you, and you leave. It's that simple but we totally over complicate it. More to come on that. 

In Summary: You receive a time, a location, and a breakdown. Take all materials and be prepared. 

  • Open Calls- when attending an open call it's important to arrive very early to either put your name down on an "unofficial list" or wait in line....yes, wait in line. It's a glamorous life we've chosen. If the audition starts at 10am you can expect the line to begin somewhere between 5am-6am. If it's a very popular call sometimes the line will begin in the wee hours of the morning. I've been in line at 4:30am and still been #35. If the casting director is accepting an unofficial list you can expect people to begin signing up early so arrive around 6am, get your name down, then going home until 9 or so, return to the audition and wait until you know your number and group time. Typically the casting director will sort H/R into piles and give you a half hour time frame or a "when to be back." They will explain further once you're there so you'll have a better understanding of your time frame to audition and get ready. 

In Summary- arrive early, sign up or wait in line, be back an hour to half an hour before the audition call time, and wait for further instructions. 

  • EPA's/ ECC's

An EPA is an Equity Principle Audition 

An ECC is an Equity Chorus Call 

As a non union actor these calls are somewhat similar to an open call. You arrive early and wait but there's a chance you won't be seen at all. Equity houses including Broadway, Off Broadway, and Equity Regional Theaters cast their seasons usually through EPA's and ECC's though some regional theaters have non union open calls to find new talent. Typically the way it works is you, as a non union actor, arrive early to be put in line as an "alternate" if they have time to see non equity or EMC (equity member candidates). EPA's and ECC's are usually just the first round of auditions, then come appointments. If you wait and are able to be seen they may invite you back for the appointments. This is a great way to start building relationships and move toward equity contracts. Non-Union is at the bottom of the list for alternates. They first see Equity members who have signed up for times, then EMC members who are actors who have gotten some equity credit but not enough to join the union, and then non union. Depending on the call the chances of being seen can be large or small. 

In Summary:  arrive early, sign up, have materials prepared, expect to wait and potentially be seen or not be seen. 

*EPA's and ECC's are important as non equity because you can start developing relationships with casting directors and hopefully book some work to either get you Equity credits or give you the opportunity to join Equity. 

4 | MATERIAL

  • Headshots/ Resume's - For every audition have at least one headshot and updated resume with you. Industry standard is 8 by 10, resume stapled to the back of the headshot. Always, always, always have one for auditions just in case. Even if they say they already have one, keep a spare. Trust me. 

As far as content goes 

  • Headshots- Industry standard is a high resolution print off. I typically use Reproductions, they're pricy but worth it. Every casting director can tell the difference between a quality printing and staples...especially as non union. Reproductions is super easy interface and great prints with quality service. 

Also, headshots as a non union actor are super important to have up to industry standards as they can keep you from getting auditions. Often in open call auditions casting directors will "type" based on headshot and resume. They will gather all actors H/R and chose based on the look they're looking for so you want to be sure the photo represents you well and speaks for what roles you can be cast as. Perhaps I'll put out a headshot photographers I love blog soon.... 

  • Resume's - Yet another thing that if not up to standard can make you look behind and "green". It's important to be clear about what you're good at, what you've done that's impressive, and how someone can cast you before they even see you. Make it clear, concise, and simple. 

It's also important to list credits that are referable in the industry I.E. you worked with a director who knows so and so or in a theater where they can call to learn more about you- almost like a reference. 

If you are coming out of college and don't have too many credits- that's okay. Just make sure you're making it clear what roles you would play best. For example- In Into the Woods I would more likely be cast a Cinderella than the Witch so I'm going to cater my resume to let the casting director know how to best cast me...basically to make their job easier. 

Start figuring out your brand and cater your resume to that. Ask your friends, teachers, and mentors what roles would best suit you and cater your resume to mirror that brand. Your brand is your own and there's never been a more appropriate or poignant time to be the most individual you in the industry than now. Invest in that person and find that freedom to express your individuality in your auditions and story telling. 

  • Audition Cuts - Choosing cuts is hard but try to find music that you enjoy singing that tells a story that you want to share. Industry standard is typically 16-32 bar cuts from a specified style. Some auditions they will give you music from the show to prepare for the audition but typically they ask for a cut in the style of the show. If you're just getting to the city and auditioning right away, take in material you're comfortable with, that you know well, and is well rehearsed that shows the best you you can take into the room. I also recommend finding a coach who can help determine how best to cast you and in turn what music can accompany that. 

I recommend setting up a session with Kate Lumpkin who is a career fairy godmother. Kate is also in casting so she immediately sees how you can be cast and suggests appropriate material. This will help immensely in setting up you "book." 

  • Song Book - I've been told to prep a book with cuts from Golden Age, 60's, 70's, 80's 90's, and 2000's, with pop rock/ country, music from composers I particularly enjoy, and beef up on the music that sits in my sweet spot. This is the general consensus- to have a cut from every decade just in case, pop rock, a go to story piece and a go to high range (for me), and my sweet spot stuff which is what is my favorite to sing. I enjoy everything I sing, if I don't it doesn't go in my book. 

Tips: Find other singers who are in your range and listen to what they're singing. Add it to your book. 

Make a list of roles you would like to play and can realistically play and find music that is similar that  you could sing for those auditions. 

Pop/Rock is hard but the right coach can help immensely with this. We'll get into that. 

*Set up those books and make them well organized! Sing music that feeds your soul and tells beautiful stories that you can't wait to share because even when it's not you chosen you still went in and shared something that resonates with you and that is beautiful and worthy of being told! 

  • Monologues and Sides : I think it's wise to have some go-to monologues, but more often than not you're going to receive sides to bring in addition to your music cuts. It's not expected but in my experience it's always better to have the sides memorized as it can help with the audition jitters. I always recommend and I've heard from several casting directors to keep the sides in hand in the room but use only as reference if needed. It's better to have your "eyes up" and be able to connect with your reader as much as possible. If given enough time you can always work sides with a coach or another actor. 

5 | CLASSES AND COACHING 

It's important to keep material and technique fresh. It's so easy to go in and out of auditions with the same cuts and grow weary and forget to discover new things in the pieces. I am guilty of this quite often. I recommend setting up some coaching right away and finding some good classes that help motivate and inspire among the seasons of rejection. 

Musical Theater/ Acting Classes I love include: 

  1. Jen Waldman Studio- offers multiple audition classes, callback classes, musical scene study, how to read a play, monologue and side workshops and many more. Her classes are uplifting, inspiring, and promote artists for each other. I can not speak highly enough about her classes. Learn More Here
  2. The Growing Studio- offers many classes with industry professionals such as casting director workshops, resident director series, singing for the composer series, and showcases that offer opportunity to possibly sign with agents. Learn More Here
  3. The Barrow Group- offers acting programs, quarterly classes, and weekend workshops. Learn More Here

* There is a never ending amount of wonderful classes in the city to participate in- these are just a few of my favorites. 

Vocal Coaching: 

Vocal coaching is very personal so I recommend spending some time learning what is best for you vocally and what will help you grow the most and look for those specifics in a coach. Finding a good coach in the city is not difficult but they can be quite pricy so I try to see my coach once a month for technique. 

Dance Classes: 

  1. Broadway Dance Center- offers a full schedule of drop in classes fully ranging in technique in addition to semester programs and yearly programs. Learn More
  2. Steps on Broadway- offers a full schedule of drop in classes fully ranging in technique and additional programs as well. Learn More
  3. Alvin Ailey- fewer drop in classes, mostly evening but wonderful ballet technique classes. Additional training programs as well. Learn More

6 | WHAT TO WEAR 

  • Be comfortable but professional. Wearing that audition dress you wore for your audition class in college is not required and almost even frowned upon. Finding a color that works for you and stands out is definitely a positive but if you work black the best, do you. If pants feel better and are a good suit for the character you're going in for do it. Find a nice top and work it. 
  • Also, don't underestimate dressing for the character. I'm not suggesting wearing a full blown musketeer outfit to a 3 Musketeers audition (I've seen it. Don't do it). But if you're going in for a British upper crust character giving yourself a fashion aid can be helpful and looks like you did your homework. 

7 | TIPS 

  • Audition Update is an anonymous site to discuss auditions, call backs, contracts, and theaters. It can be friendly but it can also be detrimental. Use it wisely and don't take any comments too seriously 
  • Nerves are normal. Try to channel them and be as open and vulnerable as possible in the room 
  • The people behind the table want you to succeed as much as you do. 
  • Don't not show up to appointments. If you need to cancel, cancel, but there's nothing worse than a reputation of a no show actor. 

8 | IN SUMMARY 

  1. For every audition, bring a headshot, resume, book of music you know well, and any criteria from the audition breakdown. 
  2. Be at least 15 minutes early for all appointments and arrive very early to sign up/wait in line for open calls. 
  3. Breathe, keep yourself organized, find your tribe and invest in that community, and invest in yourself and build a beautiful life not just as an actor but as a person thriving in the big apple. 
  4. Everyone has talent but what makes you an individual is beautiful and that's the thing you want to cultivate in auditions. 

As I said in the beginning these are just some basic how to's and I wanted to share some personal experiences that have helped me through the craziness of the acting world here in the city. Each of these points can be broken down even deeper and I plan to expound on them in the future. I hope this can be a helpful aid and resource for those just moving to the city or trying to figure out the basics. 

Much Love, 

-E