During my time at Juilliard, I had the good fortune of taking a cold reading class with Rosemarie Tischler, who was then the Head of Casting and an Associate Artistic Director at the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival. The culmination of that class was getting to formally audition in front of Rosemarie and the staff at the Public on the Newman Stage, so as to keep us in mind for their summer Shakespeare in the Park seasons.
They remembered me from my audition, and brought me in to audition the following summer upon graduating for Adrian Hall — the director for that summer's production of As You Like It to become a member of that production's non-Equity ensemble. I was cast to play William in his one scene with Touchstone and Audrey (who were, in this case, to be played by Donald Moffat and Kristine Nielsen), and along with my ensemble duties, I was to understudy old Adam, Orlando's ancient devoted servant, to be played by John Scanlon.
I remember there was a lot of talk among those of us in the non-Equity ensemble about how one goes about getting their Equity card, and what might be the best thing to do for those of us who had little to no credits on our resumes, besides the plays we had done in drama school. I had spent two previous summers during school at Shakespeare Santa Cruz as a non-Equity actor, playing Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Laurence Vail in Kaufman and Hart's Once in a Lifetime and the Belligerent Man in the Back of the Auditorium in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and was slowly finding my sea legs as a professional.
This summer we were a varied bunch — some had accumulated points toward becoming Equity members, and thought it might be of benefit to ourselves to keep accumulating points until we had enough to join. That way, we would build up our resumes with enough professional experience so that when we were lucky enough to get an Equity job, we would feel as if the increase in benefits would be commensurate with our growing professional experience. Yet some of us also feared that by becoming Equity members too soon, we would find ourselves in a pool of theater veterans who, of course, had much better chances of being hired for Equity jobs.
As it turned out, the next job I ended up getting was an Equity job — I got my Equity card understudying four of the seven male roles in Mark Wing-Davey's acclaimed production of Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest, which was transferring uptown to the Manhattan Theatre Club from the Perry Street Theater downtown. This job, in addition to learning four sizeable roles — each of which included other supplementary characters spoken in varying Romanian dialects — also required my learning four different trajectories through a full-cast wedding sequence stage fight toward the play's chaotic end. It was a lot of work, but I was excited for the challenge. I got to go on for a total of eleven performances – three performances as one character and eight performances as another, before I got my next job and had to leave.
But I remember feeling proud that I was now on the road to having a career in the New York theater scene, and would be compensated enough as an Equity member so that I would not just get paid better than I had, but have new benefits and rights as well.