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How I Got My Equity Card

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André De Shields

It was 1969 — the final “Summer of Love.” I was a dyed-in-the-paisley hippie: sandals on my feet, elephant bell bottoms hugging low on my hips, love beads strung around my neck and flowers in my Jimi Hendrix size afro. While completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), I learned that Tom O'Horgan was holding auditions for the Chicago production of Hair, America's first and only tribal love-rock musical. I had to be there or be square, but how? Money was scarce. So, in order to raise round-trip bus fare, I sold points in my future career to a few believing friends. Well, I made it to the auditions thinking that I would be told right then and there whether I had made the cut. Imagine my surprise when, after discovering that I was number 426, I was told to return the next day. The little money I had raised did not include funds for an overnight stay in the Windy City. I slept in Grant Park; used the facilities in the Shubert Theatre [now the Bank of America Theatre] to freshen up; sang Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour;" did something "sensitive" when asked to demonstrate movement and, in September, opened in Gerome Ragni and James Rado's legendary musical as a member of the Potawatomi Tribe. The rest, as they say, is history.


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