Many moons ago, in a land called suburbia, a littler me was doing school plays and community shows and falling deeply in love with the theatre. The incredibly talented guy who played Scrooge to my 10-year-old Ghost of Christmas Past was a semi-retired actor and longtime member of Actors’ Equity; which, he told me, meant that he was a real life professional actor. He also told me that all of the actors I saw on Broadway had their Equity Card. I imagined that this coveted card was some sort of golden bedazzled item which all of those fancy actors kept in their safes.
This veteran actor was brilliant, funny and kind, and I dreamed that maybe some day I too could be in Equity… whatever that was.
A few years later, I had a local acting teacher who became my “manager,” which pretty much meant that she read Backstage and called my mom to tell us about open calls. My mother (who was never one who would stand in a line for anything… except for the TKTS line) grudgingly agreed to take me to one open call for an unnamed Off-Broadway play. I worked with the director and, along with a bunch of other girls, we played theatre games and became animals and read some crazy sounding dialogue. I was in heaven.
A few weeks later, my mom greeted me in the driveway as I walked home from middle school.
“What would be the best Hannukah gift I could ever get you?”
“Um… tickets to a Broadway show?”
“How about you get to be in a show in New York City?”
“Ok… well you may not be in it, but you will be a part of it… That audition you went on? They’ve offered you the chance to understudy the two little girl roles!”
“What!? HOORAY!... What’s an understudy?”
The play was James Lapine’s Twelve Dreams at the Public Theatre, produced by Joseph Papp. James also directed, and the cast included Carole Shelley, James Olsen, Tom Hulce and Valerie Mahaffey. Rehearsals were joyous, and I did indeed go on… which was terrifying and thrilling and sealed the inevitable deal– I was madly, deeply, forever in love with the stage.
A few weeks after closing night a letter arrived in the mail for me. I was 13 and didn’t get a lot of mail so this was already pretty exciting. I opened my letter from Actors’ Equity and my flimsy little paper card was included at the bottom of the page. It was a bit of a shock that the card was neither golden nor bedazzled, but I was still thrilled to carry my card (in my Donny and Marie wallet), and to be a part of the tribe.
All these years later, I am still thrilled, honored and delighted to be a theatre artist and a proud member of Actors’ Equity.