Show business is one of the hardest careers you can enter. My quickie advice? You have to love the journey. All its disappointments and joys. If you can’t love it all, don’t do it. The path (unless you’re Tommy Tune and you get a gig the first time) is long, tiring, and very competitive.
Ask any veteran in the business and they’ll tell you of the zero dark thirty wake up calls, running down Broadway yelling for a cab while also singing to warm up your voice, loaded down with a sack full of music and every dance shoe they own (plus three changes of dance clothes).
But then you trudge your way to and through auditions, enduring endless waiting on line while Equity members get seen. When you finally get waved in, you sing your best 32 bars (sometimes only 8). You get a call back to the dance call for the next day. You nail it and believe it or not, you’re offered the gig! After all the waiting, wanting, praying, and meditation...you got it!
If this is you, I’m just in time. Here are seven things to consider on your first job (so it’s not your last). These are my top priorities when looking for performers, as well as what some established, wonderful choreographers, directors, and musical directors want.
1. Listen and hear.
Choreographer Randy Solvacek is extremely interested in people who listen, take in what is going on around them, and evaluate the situation before opening their mouths. Randy was one of my first mentors and taught me a very important rule: you can be right or you can get what you want, meaning sometimes a dance captain or director may be incorrect but it doesn’t matter. You nod your head and say ok. You will be appreciated and will no doubt be asked back. Do what they want with a smile and thank them for the note. The biggest no-no is excuses. They may be incorrect this one time but overall, they have a better view of the big picture; you are just a part of it.
Keeping eyes and ears focused on who is leading the rehearsal is a must for choreographer A.C Ciulla. No one should be speaking when the person running the rehearsal is talking and giving directions. Nothing you’re saying is more important. If it is, apply for a director job next time.
3. Check assignments.
One of the scariest things you can experience is doing the first table read with a top Broadway cast of famous actors, stunning directors, and your fellow ensemble when suddenly, the table falls silent. You look up and everyone is staring at you. The stage manager clears his throat and says, “It’s your line.” You didn’t read the entire board and therefore didn’t realize they had given you a small role.
Always check with the stage manager before the first read to see if you’ve got extra assignments. You probably won’t get fired for something like this, but it’s not a good feeling and definitely not the first impression you want to make. Always, always, always check.
4. Be you.
When a new show is being put together, director and choreographers are often building it as they go, which means there may be room to inject some of yourself into it. According to musical director David Andrews Rogers, be you. Be the best version of yourself, the one that fits that show you were specifically cast in, not the person you think they want to see.
READ: How to Become a Dancer
As for appearance, I recommend women go to rehearsal wearing full beat (audition-ready makeup) and in tidy, professional attire. You may be standing in the back but your appearance catches the director’s eye and you’re pulled to the front, maybe even given extra duties. This goes for men as well; a professional appearance shows respect to all involved.
5. Have the right attitude.
A positive attitude and good body language is a must. When we are leading a rehearsal and notice side conversations, crossed arms or sullen faces, it’s completely distracting. Your negativity becomes our focus, not the task at hand. Maybe you don’t have any negative intentions and are just concentrating really hard, but beware it may be read as something else. Keep an eye on your posturing. Be confident, open, ready, and willing to go the extra mile. Don’t give notes unless asked. Be nice!
6. Disengage from your phone.
This is still one of the creative team’s biggest annoyances. I understand many people use their phone for notes, blocking, etc., but it’s still not recommended to have in rehearsal. Nothing is worse for a choreographer or director than looking over at a cast member and seeing the top of their head. How are they supposed to know whether you’re texting or taking notes? Just leave it in your bag.
7. Show up early.
On time is late. Get there before they tell you to. Director Tome Cousins loves to see actors-dancers in the room working or warming up as he comes in for the day’s work. Being prepared, organized, efficient, and professional is key. Many shows have very quick rehearsal period and the creative team has to create, set, and move on. Some choreographers don’t retain what they just gave if it’s new material so it’s up to you to remember it. Arrive each day with all the material you have received the day before, learned. Be prepared for changes but keep all your info bubbling at the top.
I guarantee if you keep all of these tips in mind, you will do well. It may seem pretty obvious but sometimes we get a little complacent. Keep a check on your behavior and put yourself in the creative team’s shoes. Doing this you will help you empathize with the immense pressure they are under and have them see you as a favorite to work with.
*This post was originally published on July 27, 2017. It has since been updated.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.