For Your Information: A Brief Discussion of the Issues Involved in Deciding Your Summer
Non union actors have a number of issues to think over when making a decision regarding which offer to take for summer work. Sometimes, due to their inexperience, young actors make choices that are not necessarily the best for their overall career development. Here are a number of issues to think over as you make your choices.
Probably the most important decision you make is which type of theatre: non-equity summer theatre or a theme park or an equity summer theatre? Here are the pros and cons of each. Please be warned, there is no clear cut correct answer. What might be a good decision for one person, might not be the best for another.
Theme parks: Theme parks usually offer a professional environment, and excellent money and benefits. You usually rehearse one show and then perform it a number of times every day, five or six days a week. You're not constantly required to be in rehearsal and to be learning new material, nor are you required to do any tech work, although you may have additional park duties like helping to host park events. Theme parks usually look for excellent singer/dancers that fit a certain physical type. They usually are not interested in quirky or offbeat performers, or in particularly strong actors. Theme parks are a great way to spend the summer if you absolutely must make $3,000 or $4,000 over a summer to pay for school, you love the song and dance aspect of performing, and you enjoy learning a show and performing the same show many times without having to learn new material.
Non Equity summer theatres: These vary in quality from excellent to pretty mediocre. Most offer housing, as well as salary that varies from $0 to maybe $350 a week or even more. Some theatres do one show all summer, but most have a season of five or six shows, which they may either do sequentially or in rep. Some theatres job actors in for one or more shows, and others hire actors for an entire season. There may or may not be significant tech work required. Non equity summer theatres offer young actors a lot of good performance experience. Young actors will learn to rehearse one show during the day, while performing another show at night. Sometimes, they also get a chance to play the big roles like Henry Higgins or Mame, and actors can always learn by tackling the big roles. On the other hand, working at a non-equity theatre where you might be the most experienced person on stage doesn't necessarily give you the opportunity to learn from more seasoned professionals, which is another important way to learn. Another thing to think about is how roles look on your resume. Having Henry Higgins on your resume when you are 21 years old and when you wouldn't be playing that role for another 20 years in the real world is not necessarily impressive to casting directors. Having an age appropriate role on your resume like one of the sailors in South Pacific usually looks more reasonable to casting directors than having played Emil deBecque.
Equity summer theatres: These also vary in quality, but overall, the professional quality of the work and the environment is usually significantly higher than non-equity theatres. Usually, non-equity young actors do not become Equity members at a Equity theatre, but are hired as "non-union professionals." These non-equity actors usually perform in supporting roles and in the ensemble; they may also have more performing opportunities in other venues like children's theatre. The salary varies from $0 to $300 a week or more. There may or may not be significant tech work required. Like non-equity theatres, some theatres do one show all summer, but most have a season of five or six shows, which they may either do sequentially or in rep. Some theatres job non-equity actors in for one or more shows, and others hire them for an entire season. Young performers in these theatres get the benefit of working side by side with seasoned union professionals, often with Broadway credentials. To have the opportunity to watch professionals work, create roles, to observe their overall professional behavior, to work with an Equity stage manager who runs rehearsals under union rules - these are important steps to your own professional development. The professional contacts you make at Equity theatres tend to be more important, since the union actors and directors are usually operating at a higher level in the business than those in non-equity theatres or theme parks. If you impress the directors at an Equity theatre, you have more of a chance of being called by that director or producer for his or her next project, which may include an Equity card.
So there is an overview for you. If you are fortunate enough to have multiple offers, think over these points carefully and make your decision. As mentioned before, there is no correct answer: what may be best for one performer may not be the best for another. Good luck, and wherever you are, enjoy your summer!