Rita Rudner

I moved to New York when I was fifteen, which was in 1847. It was really 1968, but I’m a comedian now and I exaggerate for comedic effect. All I’d ever wanted to be was a dancer on Broadway. I had attended my first dance class when I was four and had immediately become addicted. When I got to New York, I took ballet, jazz, tap, acrobatics and jiu-jitsu. Sorry about that last item; I became a comedian again for a moment.

Each week I would buy the two show business papers: Show Business Weekly and Backstage. I saw a strange word in the ads for dancers: “Equity.” I didn’t know what that was until I was kicked out of my first audition for not having an Equity card. I then began attending non-Equity “open auditions.” I can’t remember how many open auditions I went to before I managed to be chosen for a show, but I do remember the actual show that vaulted me into union membership.

It was the national company of Zorba, starring John Raitt and Chita Rivera. I auditioned for over four hours and eventually I was chosen to be the “swing girl.” Again, completely naive, I thought at some point in the show I would be swung in on a rope. I said, “Yes, I would love to swing in,” and was invited to join Equity. I happily traveled around the country with that show for over a year.

I have been a proud member of Actors’ Equity now for almost fifty years, although I’m still waiting for a job where I swing in on a rope.

Originally published in Equity News, Summer 2019.