Making it on Broadway
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
To land a Broadway gig is to land a dance dream job. With eight shows a week offering much performance experience on big, historic stages and with significant compensation, its no wonder so many dancers are after this gig. So how can you make it to Broadway? Here, Dance Informa offers some tips on how to find and get a Broadway audition, how to book the job and how to keep that job.
So you want to be on Broadway?
Broadway’s spectrum of dance is broad. Shows have jazz, ballet, tap, ballroom, hip-hop, African, Latin, circus influences, burlesque and even cheerleading. So in order to become a Broadway dancer, it is important to study multiple styles to become as versatile as you can.
“If you only can do one or two styles, you’ll be severely limited in the shows you can perform in, which means making a living becomes that much more difficult,” says Jim Cooney, an international choreographer based in New York City and faculty member at Broadway Dance Center.
It’s also important to study acting and singing, as most Broadway shows will require their dancers to do so. “Not only do you have to get past the choreographer at an audition but the musical director as well,” says Cooney. “If you can’t at least match pitch, you’ll be limiting yourself since nearly every musical requires the dancers to sing in an ensemble.”
In addition, Chet Walker, choreographer of the Tony Award-winning revival of PIPPIN, says that acting is a must. “Take a two-year course and get the tools,” Walker suggests. “There are many schools in the city for that.”
Even though classes are practice for the next steps – the audition, the job – it’s crucial to treat them as equally important. Since musical theatre uses dance to tell a story, Cooney recommends studying with teachers who focus beyond the technique, teachers who can help you find how to convey emotion and plot within the steps.
“Treat every class like an audition,” Cooney adds. “That’s where you want to practice auditioning, not the audition itself! How will you dress? How will you style your hair? Ladies, how will you do your makeup? How will you enter and exit the room and take the floor when it’s your turn to dance, sing or read? Is your body language expressing confidence without ego?”
The Broadway audition
So you’ve been taking tons of classes and now think you’re ready to start scoping out auditions. There are several ways to land Broadway auditions. If an audition is an open call and publicly posted, then anyone can go.
Lori Eve Marinacci, a Broadway performer in Hairspray, suggests checking websites like actorsequity.org, playbill.com and backstage.com for open auditions. DanceInforma.com also lists many open auditions, as does Capezio.com.
As a choreographer, Walker says he likes open call auditions. “I get to see the new group walking or dancing on to the scene,” he explains.
Some open calls, however, will be limited only to members of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) union. Non-Equity members can still go to the audition and hope to be seen, but it depends on what the directors are looking for, how many people are at the audition and how much time they have to see people.
Members of the union also have the advantage of finding out about auditions through sources like the AEA Casting Call Hotline, trade papers and online listings. If you have an agent, then he/she can help alert you of auditions as well.
In addition to open calls, casting directors can invite people to private auditions from a pool of agency submissions or dancers they’ve seen at other auditions.
Both Equity and non-Equity performers can be called in by casting directors. “The more a performer auditions, the more the casting directors get to know them and their work and the more likely they’ll be to start calling that performer in for auditions they are right for,” Cooney says. “Once a performer has an agent, the agent can submit the performer to the casting directors, which helps them get called in even more.”
At a Broadway audition, it’s crucial to perform. “Every dancer in NYC has technique,” Cooney says. “You have to have technique to be a working dancer. They’re looking for performers. Who grabs their attention? Who understands the meaning behind the choreography? Who is making it their own? When you watch dancers in a Broadway show, they are fully invested in their performance and wholeheartedly committed to the emotional context.”
“Be open, show what the choreographer asks, unless they say to do your own thing,” Walker adds. “Know the choreographer’s background, wear the correct clothing and shoes.”
Casting directors will pay attention not only to how you dance but also to how you behave at an audition. “Be nice!” Cooney advises. “The choreographer will have to work with those performers for eight hours a day, six days a week. Then in tech, they will be together for 12 hours a day. If you’re not a pleasant person no one will want you around for that long. Were you friendly to the people who checked you in at the audition? Did you look happy while learning the choreography? Are you supportive while other dancers are auditioning? Believe me, the choreographer notices those things, as does the casting director, musical director, producer and anyone else working on the show.”
Finally, it’s also important to not get frustrated and give up. Great dancers can go to audition after audition after audition and still get cut. But sometimes the reason has nothing to do with technique, so keep trying and you just may land a job. Marinacci, for example, said it took her two years of auditioning for Hairspray until she got the gig. So be persistent.
Keep that job
Marinacci admits that being on Broadway is a lot of work, so it is necessary to take care of your body so it can last and you can keep that job for which you worked so hard.
“Aside from eight shows a week, there are constant rehearsals or ‘put-ins’, especially in a long-running show,” Marinacci says. “Obviously, this does a number on your body. So it’s important to eat well, take vitamins and keep up with classes if at all possible. Warming up is important, as is cooling down, before and after shows. When you’re living in NYC, making money, doing what you love, it’s easy to go out after shows and stay out late, especially when you’re young. It’s important to have fun, but not at the risk of your job or reputation.”
Broadway performers dance the same choreography again and again each night, so try to keep the show fresh for yourself and the audience. “Be at your job not at half hour, but before so you are ready physically and mentally,” Walker adds. “The audience is paying the same money for the ticket each night. They deserve the show that opened! Even if that was years ago.”
And don’t stop working, even when you’ve landed a great job. “It’s easy to get comfortable in life or in a situation and stop working at or for it,” Marinacci says. “It’s important to do the ‘work’ even when you’ve booked the job or start to feel comfortable or too busy. They tend not to teach the business side of the business in school. Networking and classes are important. And most importantly, take care of yourself. No one else will!”