Ask if it’s Equity

The first thing that some people asked me when they heard about me going on tour is if it was a Non-Equity or an Equity tour.  LOTS of people asked me this. I was really irritated by this question and purposefully didn’t answer and I couldn’t figure out why it affected me that way. Then I was messaged by some people and also asked in person how much money I am going to make. I automatically felt self-conscious about doing a Non-Equity tour. I felt self-conscious about the fact that while I am very happy with my contract and that it is more money than I ‘ve ever made (Chicago Equity houses included), that some people feel inclined to scoff at it.

So, at first I felt inadequate and then slowly I  became really angry. Let’s not even talk about the fact that it is nobody’s damn business what the specifics of my contract are. Let’s focus on WHY people need to know that information. Is it so they can decide whether or not they should be happy for me? Is it so they can compare my situation to someone else’s? Is it just old-fashioned nosiness? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s obnoxious. And it brings up a bigger topic.

I have Equity friends, who I love by the way, who don’t even acknowledge that there is a Non-Equity scene in Chicago. They don’t see any Non-Equity shows, they don’t take non-union awards seriously, and they certainly wouldn’t see a Non-Equity National tour as a legitimate achievement. About 5% of my Equity friends even acknowledged that I was leaving or that I had landed a great opportunity. Now…I have PLENTY of support, more than I could ever need. I certainly don’t need everyone fawning over me, but it was an extremely noticeable thing and it hurt my feelings whether I wanted it to or not.

I’m not trying to start a battle of Non-Equity vs. Equity. In a perfect world, we would all be Equity and all theaters would be Equity. I fully plan on joining Equity in the next couple of years. My argument is not against hard-won fair wages and benefits for actors AT ALL. It is what we all want. It is what we all deserve. What I DO have a problem with, is snobbery.

The fact is that some of the best and bravest work being done in Chicago is Non-Equity theater. And OF COURSE it is. Non-Equity theaters aren’t spending as much money. Most of them don’t have subscription bases that they feel like they need to please. It is easier to take risks, especially with Musical Theater which cost much more to produce. But with few exceptions, if you want to see a musical that is about more than just privileged white people problems, you have to seek it out in the Non-Equity scene. I’m not trying to say that Non-Equity is better than Equity or vice versa. I am JUST SAYING that there is validity in the work on both sides of the aisle. I will not be a better actress the day I turn Equity than I was the day before it.

In Chicago there is now a campaign called “Ask if it’s Equity.” The gist is that if you’re a patron of the theater and seeing a National tour that you should make sure you ask the theater if it’s an Equity tour. The campaign states the following:

When you pay full price for a Broadway Tour, you expect to see a Broadway production. Performers and stage managers on Broadway work under Actors’ Equity Contracts, which means they receive fair pay with benefits and enjoy quality working conditions. Unless you are seeing an Equity production, you’re not seeing Broadway.

Show your support for fair treatment of actors and stage managers who are traveling to bring Broadway to you.

Every time you buy a ticket, ask if it’s Equity.

Because if you’re paying for Broadway, you want to know you’re really seeing Broadway.

“Because if you’re paying for Broadway, you want to know you’re really seeing Broadway.” Many Non-Equity actors, many on tour, have taken offense to this campaign and taken to Facebook to vent about it. And many Equity actors have come back and said “it’s not about the quality of the performers, it’s about how they’re being treated.” It’s about making sure that the performers “receive fair pay with benefits and enjoy quality working conditions.” Well, I’m receiving fair pay with benefits and enjoying quality working conditions. I’m staying in 3 star or above hotels. I’m working with the original Broadway artistic team. We’re doing the original Broadway staging and choreography. We’re wearing the Broadway costumes.

So let’s call it what is is, shall we? The only thing not “Broadway” about our tour is the cast. Right? Can we agree? You’re right. None of us have been on Broadway….yet. But let me tell you, our actress playing Deloris (the lead in Sister Act) is one of the brightest stars I’ve ever worked with. Talented and a BONA-FIDE STAR. She will be on Broadway one day. I would put her up against ANY Equity actress and she still  would’ve landed this part. But guess what? If this had been an Equity production, chances are she never would’ve even been seen. She would’ve stayed in a holding room for 12 hours only to go home without being seen. They would’ve missed out on this beautiful star.

Am I saying that all Non-Equity tours are perfect? Absolutely not.  I have heard of many horror story Non-Equity National tours, both in quality and in how actors were treated.  But are all Non-Equity tours created the same? I say they’re not. And to imply to the layman that they will only see quality IF it’s filled with Equity actors IS insulting. Sorry, it is.

Essentially, you are saying that I shouldn’t have this job. Wrap it in as many bows and ribbons as you want, that’s what you’re saying. And if I didn’t have this job, I’d be temping. I’d be trying to figure out how to eat AND pay rent, crashing the same Equity auditions over and over, watching them cast the same folks over and over. And I know when this is over, I’ll go back to that. But THIS IS THE THING…

Isn’t the whole point of Actors Equity to give their actors a living wage and benefits…t o protect the actor? Shouldn’t we want that for ALL actors? Shouldn’t we celebrate that those who are not ALLOWED to join the union until we pass the test of the seven wonders, travel to Mordor, find Aslan, the Allspark, and the golden fleece….are able to make more than a $200 stipend (including at some Equity theaters).

Do you want to solve this problem? Make it easier for actors to go Equity. I’ve worked at 6 Equity houses, shouldn’t I be allowed to join the union? I would still have to earn my weeks to receive my benefits. What’s the harm? If all actors were union, then theaters (and NATIONAL TOURS) would be forced to follow suit.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy not being a starving artist for a change. Peace out.

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Sheldon, my love.

Sheldon Patinkin was the first person to see me as a leading lady. He saw it in me even when I didn’t. He looked at me and saw Mother in Ragtime. He looked at me and saw bubbly and fragile Lou Ellen in Oh Boy. When I shared my news that I was so excited to be called back for Petra in A Little Night Music at Peninsula Players, he said “No. No. No. You’re the wife. You’re Anne.” I remember being so tickled by that. That ANYONE would see me as Anne. But his eyes sparkled and he said it with such certainty that you couldn’t help but believe that it was possible. I never thought I was pretty or thin or talented enough for those roles, but he did.

He thought I was the heroine and sometimes he even thought that I was the ingenue and cast me as such. He saw things in me that no one else did and no one else does. I am embarrassed and feel presumptuous, but on occasion I was his muse. As weird as I feel saying it, I know that it’s true. To be even the occasional muse of such a great great man was and is one of the greatest honors of my life. The last message he sent me was “We have to work on a show together. Have to.” I so wish we had had one last show together. My heart breaks that we didn’t.

I was just thinking yesterday about how my birthday is coming up and I was so looking forward to his yearly birthday post on Facebook. It always came the day before, so it was always the first one I got and I looked forward to it every single year. I won’t get that post this year. I won’t get that love. But is it weird that I feel basked in his love right now? I feel even more looked after now then I did before.

I used to feel that grieving on social media and in a public way was unseemly. I now find it beautiful. We can’t hide or avoid the death or decline of our loved ones. It’s right there in the open for us to see. We are confronted with it. We are confronted with the pain and the loss, but we are also confronted with the love and the joy. We can CELEBRATE how one person can make an immeasurable impact on the world.

I feel so fucking lucky to have known that special SPECIAL man. FUCKING LUCKY. And I just hope that he’s proud of me. I just want to make him proud. He’s my fucking hero. He’s my Dumbledore. He’s my mentor. But mostly, he’s my friend. I promise to be an asshole and not a chickenshit Sheldon. I fucking promise. I owe it to you. I love you.

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Nun Bootcamp

unnamed I wake up every day at 7am. I eat breakfast, feed the dogs, pack my lunch, walk to the train, take the A Express to Manhattan, enter Pearl Studios, buy some tea, and rehearse from 10am-6pm. I then walk to the train, take the A Express to Brooklyn, eat my dinner, play with the dogs while I watch Project Runway, take a shower, work on my script, get in bed, and go to sleep.  This is my life right now.

When I first arrived we (the nun ensemble) were thrown into what the production team dubbed “nun bootcamp.” As someone who ACTUALLY went to bootcamp, let me tell you, that is a fair name. In real bootcamp you are overwhelmed, physically exhausted, emotional, triumphant, and mentally drained. In NUN bootcamp you are overwhelmed, physically exhausted, emotional, triumphant, and mentally drained. I had no idea what I was getting into. Not only is this one of the hardest shows to sing that I’ve ever done, it is THE hardest choreography I’ve ever done. Hands Down. It isn’t technically difficult, there is just so much of it and we’re WAILING at the same time.

So the first couple of days were a little rough. First days are always rough, but more so when you’re in a new city, working on a high profile project, and being thrown right away into 6-hour choreography rehearsals. I have always had a phobia of dance. I don’t pick up sequence very well, I can’t hide my panic on my face, and there is nothing like being in a room surrounded by mirrors to let you know how far you’ve let yourself go. I was so lost those first couple of days, culminating in getting literally lost for 2 hours in not the best part of Brooklyn with a dead phone. I wanted to feel strong and I didn’t feel strong. I felt weak and unworthy.

And then my third day here, Molly Glynn died. And everything felt ridiculous and confusing and random and out of control. I had to figure out how to stop crying so that I could go to rehearsal. I didn’t know her that well, but enough that we would hug and catch up whenever we saw each other. I was always happy to see her. She was encouraging to me after she saw A Little Night Music at Peninsula Players at another time when I felt insecure and unworthy. So, she wasn’t my best friend, but she was always so nice to me. Losing her hurt.  She was beautiful and talented and young and a mother. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

A few hours after that I found out about Bernie Yvon’s accident, and soon after that I learned that prior to these tragedies Chicago had lost two other actors: Sati Word and Trinity P. Murdock. So I learned all of this, spent a couple of sleepless nights crying, and then I got over myself. How dare I not be brave? How dare I not be happy? How dare I complain? I’m not only lucky to be doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing and lucky to make a living doing it. I’m lucky TO HAVE MY HEALTH. I’m lucky TO BE ALIVE. I’m lucky TO LOVE and I’m lucky TO BE LOVED.

I went back to the studio with a new attitude and new eyes. It’s okay to not be good at something. You just work harder. As if she could read my mind our choreographer gave us a speech. She said that we were all cast for different reasons. Not everyone in the show was cast for their dance skills. Everyone is going to learn at a different pace and that’s okay. She gave the speech to the room, but caught my eye for more than half of it. That simple, kind act gave me the permission to fail. It gave me the permission to not beat myself up about it.

I am having so much fun now, and I feel so good. I feel really proud of myself. My cast is lovely and the show is really good. I was worried about feeling artistically fulfilled in such a commercial production. I shouldn’t have worried. I am inspired by the work being done around me and I find myself enormously moved by this show and by my part in it. I am part of a group of women (nuns) who are so filled with light and joy and have never learned how to express those feelings. In the show they learn to express their joy.  I can’t think of anything more moving than that. So I am honored to bring this joy to America.  We still have a ways to go, but I can see how great this show is going to be already. And I will not take it for granted. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. So I’m going to live today.

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