I’d bounced around at non-union theaters in Chicago for a few years. I was never really in a rush to do EMC or join Equity because Chicago’s non-equity scene was and is very strong, with amazing non-Equity theaters and actors. But I was running into a brick wall every time I auditioned at the big Equity Houses — non-union jobs at those places were hard to come by.
In 2000, I auditioned at the Goodman for the great Chuck Smith. Somehow, I got cast, in A Raisin in the Sun, as Joseph Asagai. The non-union money wasn’t great, but what did I care? I was at the Goodman! And I’d worked with one of the actors before. Harry J. Lennix, playing Walter Lee Younger, had worked with me in the same play sixteen years prior, at Northwestern University, where I had played Travis and he had played Bobo!
Just before rehearsals started, I was asked if I’d be willing sign an Equity contract and join the union. I didn’t have the cash to join, but they offered to deduct a nominal amount from each check until I met my initiation fee. I still hemmed and hawed – until they told me my salary, which amounted to over three times what my non-union check would be. I talked to a local actor who I respected and admired greatly, the late Freeman Coffey. He said, “that iron ain’t always gonna be hot, so strike!” I did, and I haven’t looked back.