Getting cast in a Broadway musical requires talent, tenacity and lots of luck, since beginning actors often have difficulty earning a full-time living. As the Actors' Equity Association's 2011-12 theatrical season report indicates, 42.6 percent of its 17,446 members worked an average of 16.1 weeks per year. Eleven percent of Equity members made $50,000 or more, while 40 percent earned less than $5,000. However, if you're ready to pay your dues, you may manage to claim a niche on the Broadway stage.
Begin Training Early
A strong voice is the foundation of any musical career, which is why the Kennedy Center recommends starting that training at age 13. Additional dance and acting classes are also desirable -- to improve your chances of becoming the "triple threat" that casting directors want. Finding that training outside of high school may mean enrolling in a summer theater program or taking additional classes. Getting used to this regimen now develops the work ethic needed for success.
Continue Your Education
College is the next step for aspiring musical theater artists. Ideally, you should choose an institution that combines a strong performing arts program and a well-rounded liberal arts education. For example, taking literature classes will deepen your knowledge of classic writers whose works are performed regularly onstage. Also, you won't miss out on college life experiences -- unlike in a conservatory environment, which allows less time to develop a broad range of specialized skills.
Get Local and Regional Parts
While it doesn't pay well, summer stock theater is the best way of developing the contacts and skills needed to shine on Broadway, notes the Boston Singers' Resource News Bulletin. The various roles you gain locally also make you more marketable. For example, an actor who sings and dances equally well has a better shot at impressing a director whose budget doesn't allow him to assign those jobs to different people. Building that experience gives you the confidence to try out for bigger productions.
Make the Audition Rounds
Most auditions aren't a secret. You can learn about them by subscribing to actors' trade magazines, such as "Backstage" or "Playbill," or visiting their online versions. Then you can plan cheap day trips and accommodations in key performing arts cities like New York. Make sure your prepared material fits the show's production requirements, however. For example, if the role requires dancing, a professional company won't hire an actor with spotty skills in those areas.
Debate persists on the importance of agents and union membership to an actor's career. Generally, a director cares more about her show's needs than your membership or representation. An agent's involvement means less time waiting in line, but it doesn't help an actor who can't vary her approach. Similarly, many theater tours feature non-union casts, which puts you in competition with unionized actors for the same work.
- ArtsEdge: The Kennedy Center: Supporting Young Artists: When the Show Biz Bug Bites: Moving On
- ArtsEdge: The Kennedy Center: Supporting Young Artists: When the Show Biz Bug Bites: Next Steps
- ArtsEdge: The Kennedy Center: Supporting Young Artists: When the Show Biz Bug Bites: Training
- Boston Singers' Resource News Bulletin: So You Want to Be a Musical Theatre Star?
- New York Castings: Hit a High Note
- The Actors' Equity Association: 2011-12 Theatrical Season Report: An Analysis of Employment, Earnings, Membership and Finance
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.