Getting your Equity card is a rite of passage and a game-changing moment. I always tell younger artists that getting your Equity card does not make you more talented, but it does put you in the category of professional theatre actor, which was my goal. I think it’s up there with one’s Broadway debut or performing on the Tonys, but is often a moment that gets glossed over.
I was fortunate enough to get my Equity card at the theater where I grew up, Starlight Bowl in San Diego (aka San Diego Civic Light Opera). I give Starlight and my performing arts high school complete credit for all my success. I started working at Starlight when I was 14 and it quickly became my consistent summer job. It was summer stock at its finest, a five-show season. Each summer I was cast in at least two shows, performing one at night and rehearsing the other during the day. Under the direction of Don and Bonnie Ward, I got a better hands-on education than any degree could provide.
The theater was an outside amphitheatre and was infamous for being under the flight pattern of the airport. Due to this, the onstage action “froze” when a plane flew overhead. In the pit there were three sets of three lights, similar to a traffic light. The yellow meant warning a plane was coming, red meant freeze and hold your position and the green meant continue with the scene. It may sound ridiculous, but it was a Balboa Park tradition. I pride myself with always being in the moment onstage and being aware of my surroundings. I think this experience has a lot to do with that.
Bradley with Definque Juniel, Karyn Overstreet and Jolie Jenkins.
I got my card for playing Andy Lee in 42nd St. It was directed and choreographed by Jon Engstrom, of the original Broadway cast. It was the second time I did the show for this same director; the first time, I was 16 and was the first time I could drive myself to rehearsal. This time, I was 21 years old and it was my 21st show for Starlight – and I was becoming union. Normally, Andy Lee doesn’t dance in all the ensemble numbers, but since Jon knew that dancing was my forte, I got to do double duty. If I was asked to do that now I wouldn’t be as ecstatic, but back then I wanted to do it all.
I had already rehearsed with the company for a week before the Equity actors arrived. It was always my favorite day when they showed up. Getting to work with actual professionals at such an early age was inspiring. Most of them came from Los Angeles, but occasionally we would get a New York actor in the cast. I was very open to learn from them, so when I was considered one of them and asked to go into the stage manager’s office for the first-day Equity meeting, I was beyond thrilled.
Bradley with Jonathon Taylor and Bob Walton.
For me, becoming Equity is more than just being able to get seen at certain auditions; it comes with protections. Shows close, contracts end, but my union is a constant. Do I agree with everything the union does? Of course not. But do I believe they are looking out for my best interest? Absolutely. Since I became Equity umpteen years ago, the insurance has gotten better, I have a 401k, I got supplemental income when I was out for an injury and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Young actors often ask me, “When is it time to get your card?” This answer is different for everyone. When I got mine, the only option was to be given your card. Now with EMC points and sister unions buy-ins, there are additional options. There is a lot more non-union work now than there was back then, but my goal was always Broadway and Broadway is Equity. It’s an important decision that should be taken seriously, but it is a necessary step if your end game is a life in professional theatre. I have a podcast called “Broadway’s Backbone” that highlights the careers of Broadway Ensemble members (available on iTunes and Sound Cloud – shameless plug complete!), and the question of getting one’s Equity card is a frequent topic.
Working regionally for the last six years, I have continued a tradition of celebrating new members joining Equity on that contract. I let the new members know what an important step they are taking. I’ll always remember my first contract and freezing for the overhead planes, and I look forward to my future contracts in a career that is as much about passion as it is about success. I’m a proud member of Actors’ Equity.
Bradley with the company of 42nd St at Starlight Bowl in 1993.