AUTHOR’S NOTE: Since I've been writing plays my whole life, I thought I'd use that form to tell this story. And I've also cast all the parts – all Equity, of course.
How I Got My Equity Card
A Play in One Act
By Jim Brochu
The Time: December, 1969
The Place: New York City
(The curtain rises on JIM, age 23 (John Candy), walking excitedly down center. He carries a box and tears it open. He looks at the contents and grins wildly, almost insanely. He addresses the audience.)
JIM: My new pictures and résumé. You know, 13 weeks ago I didn't have a résumé – except for some shows I did in high school and college – and then of course there was the scene work at the American Academy; but after 13 weeks at The Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey – look, I have a professional résumé. Listen New York, I have just performed in 12 musicals in 12 weeks. I'm only 23 and have played some of the greatest octogenarian roles in the American Musical Comedy canon. The guy who printed my pictures said, "Sure, you're a good type, but you won't work until you get older." I knew he was wrong. My size would get me work. After all, I was 300 pounds and could move like a butterfly. Haven't I just done a commercial as a dancing raisin for Post Raisin Bran? The nerve of him. (He crosses to a different part of the stage. A secretary, Betty (Bernadette Peters), sits typing at her desk. Jim crosses to her.)
BETTY: Hiya big boy.
JIM: (To the audience.) She calls me big boy. (To BETTY.) Did you get the breakdowns today?
BETTY: Sure, and I looked through them but didn't see anything you were right for – that was non-Equity, that is.
JIM: How do I get my Equity card, Betty?
BETTY: Get in an Equity show.
JIM: That's easy.
BETTY: But first you need an Equity card.
JIM: Okay, so I needed to get into an Equity show to get a card but I can't get a card until I'm in an Equity show.
BETTY: You know, you can go to an Equity call and wait until all the union people have auditioned and maybe, just maybe, they'll see you. (She hands him a call sheet.) Look, this is for a limited run of The Taming of The Shrew at Town Hall for the Christmas holidays. And, it's a production contract.
JIM: You mean a BROADWAY contract?
BETTY: That's right. Why, right now minimum is $165.00 a week.
JIM: (To the audience) A fortune!
BETTY: Here. Go to the Jerry LeRoy Studios on 8th Avenue between…
JIM: 45th and 46th Street. That's my good luck studio. I auditioned for Surflight there!
(He crosses to stage left, where suddenly a horde of actors appear. Some are going over Shakespearean monologues, others pacing. Jim appears in the middle of them.)
JIM: Excuse me. Does anyone know what number they're up to?
ACTOR ONE: (Kelsey Grammer) I have no idea what number they are up to. They have no idea what number they are up to. This is chaos! Pure chaos.
JIM: Is there an Equity rep here?
ACTOR ONE: He's over there trying to bring order out of chaos. What fools these mortals be.
JIM: Is that from Taming of the Shrew?
ACTOR ONE: What? You call yourself an actor and you don't know Shakespeare!
(He exits. A sparrow-like woman, about 60, enters and stands next to Jim.)
JENA: (Estelle Winwood) Next 10. Next 10. Now, please.
JIM: I'm not on the list. I'm non…
JENA: Please. Now. The fire marshal says we have to empty these halls. Now get in there.
JIM: But these guys…
(Nine other actors swallow Jim and drag him inside. A tall, Befuddled English gentleman SIDNEY SLON [John Cleese] appears with a stack of pictures – most of which are falling to the floor. He selects a few and puts them in his briefcase. Jena stands next to him and starts to put her stack of pictures in the briefcase.)
SIDNEY: What are you doing? The pictures in the briefcase are for finalists.
JIM: (To audience.) I made a mental note of that.
SIDNEY: Gentlemen, this has nothing to do with your obvious talents, but this is for the part of the Narrator and I am looking for a special type. A larger, older man. So thank you for coming but you're not right. Thank you.
(The line turns to exit. Jim is almost out the door.)
SIDNEY: Wait. You! The tall, fat one.
SIDNEY: How old are you?
JIM: I'm, er…34. But I'm not a member of….
SIDNEY: You look like you're 18. Here read this.
(He hands Jim the copy.)
JIM: "In fair Padua came a man to call…"
SIDNEY: Yes, that's fine. But I'm sorry, you're just too young.
(Just as JENA and SIDNEY call offstage)
JENA: Next 10.
SIDNEY: Ten please.
(With their backs turned, Jim takes his picture and résumé and places it Sidney's briefcase. He continues crossing.)
JIM: Oh well. At least I auditioned and the Equity guy didn't catch me and arrest me on the spot. I was terrified that my status would be found out and I believed that the penalty for a non-union member to audition for a union show was at least a flogging in Duffy Square. But I could sleep well knowing I had done what I could for myself that day.
(He tucks himself in bed. After a few minutes the phone rings. He answers it.)
Good Lord, do you know what time it is? Who is this?
SIDNEY: This is Sid Slon, producer of The Taming of The Shrew. I was very impressed with your audition yesterday and I saved your picture and résumé. Besides, the fellow I hired quit this morning and I'm desperate. You have the job. We'll put grey in your hair.
JIM: Sure. Everybody else has.
SIDNEY: Meet me at The Players Club at noon to discuss and sign the contract. You know where that is, don't you?
JIM: Of course. (He hangs up.) I didn't. I should. He said to wear a suit and tie. When he finds out I'm not Equity he's going to have me thrown out. The flogging that I feared would be forthcoming.
(He puts on a jacket and the lights shift to stage right.)
Oh my. What a beautiful house. Did Edwin Booth really live here? I don't believe my eyes. Bert Lahr is playing cards with Pat O'Brian and Jimmy Cagney. Is that Alfred Drake at the bar talking to Arthur Miller? With people like this around, forget about the flogging, I would be beheaded.
SIDNEY: (Entering.) There you are, dear boy. Quite a place, isn't it?
JIM: I'm honored to be here.
SIDNEY: And we're honored to have you in our production. Have you ever played Town Hall?
JIM: No sir, but I've worked at Surflight.
SIDNEY: Yes, well, here's your Equity contact. Everyone gets minimum.
(Jim looks at the contract, takes the pen and is about to sign, then puts the pen down.)
SIDNEY: Everyone gets the same, I promise.
JIM: No, it's not that. I have a confession to make.
JIM: I'm not a member of Actors’ Equity.
SYNDEY: (After a pause.) Well, then go up and join! We start rehearsals at 2 p.m.
JIM: (He shows the audience his contract.) Look. I have my Equity contract. I'm in an Equity show. I had the hundred dollars I saved for a new audition suit and marched up to 165 West 46th Street. It was the center of the universe and my dream had come true. (To an unseen person.) Which way is the Equity Lounge? Second floor? Thank you. Yes, I will come right in. Oh my God. Just as the stars were at the Players, all the great character men I've seen on the stage are here. My people. Now I could sit and talk to them as an equal because I am one of them. What a day! December 16, 1969.
(He looks at the room.)
Well, bye everybody. I'd love to sit and talk to you all day. But I have to go now. You see, I have a rehearsal. (He looks at his Equity card. The lights change. Fade to black.)