“IF SHE CAN MAKE IT THERE, RACHEL BICKERTON CAN MAKE IT, ANYWHERE”
Today, I’m talking to Aussie Entertainer and Expat Rachel Bickerton who packed her bags 4 months ago and made the move to the BIG APPLE after winning her hand at the random Green Card Lottery.
Having performed in the Australian productions of Dusty, We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, Chicago and Rock Of Ages, to name a few, Rachel’s move to NYC has highlighted some distinct differences between the Music Theatre scene in Australia and on Broadway.
At the time of this interview Rachel had just been offered a role the USA Touring Company of Chicago, and she generously gave AussieTheatre readers a few tips about moving abroad to pursue a career in theatre and the Broadway audition process.
AT: What made you decide to move to NYC?
I visited NY for the first time 6 years ago on a world trip and fell in love instantly. It really is a dreamland for performers, artists anyone with a creative bone in their body. Every Street or Avenue you turn down there’s something going on, from theatre, fashion, food, photography you name it, its happening and that completely excites me.
I entered the lottery a few years ago after a dear friend who is a musician from NY pushed me to do it. I’ll never forget him saying, “Bicko you need to enter the green card lottery, if any one is gonna win it you are” …. and as we had a laugh about it, we still to this day recall that feeling of fate planting its seeds.
Six months later I received a letter in the mail and there it was I had been selected and was officially in the process of having a 10 year visa.
That’s incredibly exciting, but some people might feel that leaving behind your contacts at home can be quite a risk?
You can look at it as a risk or an opportunity to make more. I have worked in the industry back home for the past 10 years. It takes time to make contacts and for people to know who you are, but I also believe if you’re a hard worker and have a good reputation people will always remember you.
What was the audition process like going in for your Chicago audition? Was it an open call or agency call? Were there any parts available or just a technicality?
I actually auditioned 3 times… I went to an EPA (Equity Principle Audition) back in December where I sang and met with the casting people. They weren’t looking to cast any roles back then it was just a general go see. I then attended another singing audition about a month ago where the guy on the panel didn’t even raise his head to look at me and say hello. I was in complete shock after that experience. Then I finally attended a dance audition a week after that and I knew as soon as I walked in the room this was a real audition. They explained exactly what they were looking for and the upcoming tours. We learnt “All that Jazz” and then they cut from about 40 of us down to 4. Once again it was an open equity call so there were a few hundred people there trying to be seen. All the auditions I attended were Equity calls, and only one out of the three were they actually looking to cast roles.
[pull_left]We walked in the room 30 at a time they looked at us and then cut before we did anything. Went from 400 to 60 in a matter of minutes[/pull_left]
What are the major differences you’ve seen in American Auditions compared to Australian ones?
Firstly the amount of people auditioning is extremely confronting. The studios over here are much smaller with hundreds of people cramming in trying to get seen. I went to a singing audition for Billy Elliot where there were literally over 400 people’s names on a list , I was number 189 and they decided to “type” (as they call it) just to be seen. We walked in the room 30 at a time they looked at us and then cut before we did anything. Went from 400 to 60 in a matter of minutes, which was great for us that got to sing but brutal for those that got up at 6am to warm their voices up and prepare for the audition.
Secondly the amount of time you get in the room is so short due to the numbers they need to push through. So when learning routines you need to nail it instantly there’s no second chances over here. After dancing for the Chicago audition they called a few of us back to sing, they originally asked us for 16 bars as they were running late. A few minutes later they came back and said “change of plans, choose your best 8 bars ”…… there was a moment of silence in the room then we all burst out laughing. I was astounded! 8 bars, I mean really. So I chose my 8 bars and belted out the last 3 words of my song as big and boldly as I could, a week later I was offered the job.
I would have to say also the biggest difference over here is the amount of auditions going on. I have never been to so many in my life. There is a list that goes up on the equity website and you just go through and write them into your diary what ever you please. I spent all of January auditioning every single day, sometimes 3 a day. I would wake up 6 am warm my voice up, pack my bags for the day and head into times square. Sing for the first one, get back on the subway head across town dance for the next one, walk across the road and sing for another.
It really was quite surreal when I first got here. Then it becomes so normal to go in audition, walk out and forget about it, where as back home, we hang by the phone and wait for the call as we just don’t have that luxury of knowing there will be an abundance of auditions to choose from.
What kind of preparation do you undertake before an audition? Do you practice visualizations, positive thinking or mantras that you can share?
I research the show initially. Find out if there is a movie, a book any information I can get about the storyline, the characters and the era of the show. These days YouTube has become an extremely valuable source. I choose my songs and work on them until they are comfortable in my body. I always keep up with regular vocal lessons. If there is a role I have in mind I will work on scenes. I work at keeping my body fit and strong, as a performer my body is my instrument and it’s up to me to keep it finely tuned. My little ritual the night before has become to have my bag packed, make sure everything is laid out accordingly so when I wake in the morning I am clear and organized, otherwise I feel cluttered. Clear space keeps a clear mind. There is nothing worse than running around the morning of an audition like a chook with its head cut off.
[pull_right]it becomes so normal to go in audition, walk out and forget about it, where as back home, we hang by the phone and wait for the call as we just don’t have that luxury of knowing there will be an abundance of auditions to choose from.[/pull_right]
What are the major differences you have noticed in the industry in New York compared to that in Australia?
The division between, Equity and non-equity members and the rules that apply to acquiring your membership are so difficult. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to transfer my membership from home as I had a recent contract I could provide to prove my status in the industry. It made my life a lot easier. Most auditions over here are Equity run and if you’re not a member the chances of being seen are very slim. A non-member must arrive at an audition about 2 hours before to put their name on a waiting list for any open spaces that may be left at the end. At most auditions they simply ask non-members to leave their CV and headshots and they are turned away. I have also seen many times where they call non-members into a spare room and “type” them from their headshot. I guess there’s only so many hours in a day, and so many people they can see, this is the process they have formulated to see as many as they can.
What are the resume/headshots requirements in New York compared to Australia?
I have noticed the style of the headshots is a little different over here. It’s hard to explain. The colour is very bold and I have seen some creative compositions. Where as I feel back home we are quite standard with our frames. As for my CV, I wasn’t sure at first how to formulate it. If I should state where I had performed the shows to make it clear I had come from Australia.
[pull_left]Literally every step I took was a learning curve when I started auditioning over here[/pull_left]
Literally every step I took was a learning curve when I started auditioning over here. The reactions I got from directors, the questions they asked me, and the interest all varied when they looked at my CV. One day after I sang I had a director show a lot of interest and went to on to read though my CV and told me he was very confused. He knew all the shows I had done, all the people that worked on them but had never heard of me and wanted to know why. Of course I explained I was from Australia and he then gave me a few tips on how to lay out my CV so it was clear. Since then I have labeled each tour, country or state so to eliminate the confusion. Its funny since I made a few small changes the conversations in the room have been a lot more direct and clear.
Tell us about the infamous BOOK?
I’m sure we can all remember at some stage our singing teachers urging us to work on our repertoire. There is a list of songs we should all have at the ready for whatever audition may come along when we least expect it. I’ve heard it many times and always planned to get the list completed, but time passes by and it just never happened.
When I started singing lessons over here, I kept hearing about “the book”….. show me “your book”….. lets go through “your book” I had my 2 little binders with my carefully selected songs over the years. Joke was on me, “where is the rest “? I was asked. As I continued to audition I would see people walking in to their singing auditions with a bible of music, perfectly colour coded and ordered I’m sure in every genre, arrangement and option possible. There are so many auditions every day over here, you don’t have a lot of time to prepare and be overly ready. So the more comprehensive and meticulous “your book” is, the greater chance you have of being thoroughly prepared. Auditioning over here is like running your own small business.
What has been the best advice you have been given while starting out in a new city and new industry here?
People are very quick to tell you how hard it’s going to be. A close friend who has been here for 4 years said to me when I first got here, “don’t let other people’s story be yours, make your own.” I have found these wise words to be extremely helpful in those moments when I started to doubt myself.
You must have moved to New York with some preconceptions – what have you found is NOT TRUE about the Great White Way?
You know the old Frank Sinatra song “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” …. NYC comes with a high esteem. And before I made the move, I was continually told how hard it was going to be, to get noticed, to get a job, to find a place to live. I was told it will take time and to be patient.
My experience has been the complete opposite. Like my dear friend said, “make your own story”… This city is like nowhere else, and the more you give to it, the more you get out of it.
[pull_right]If you have a millimetre of doubt in your body there are a hundred people lined up beside you oozing confidence and ability that will step right over you in a heart beat[/pull_right]
What are 3 main personal characteristics you feel you need to foster to make it in NYC?
Confidence, clarity, and determination. There’s a big sea of people trying to make it over here on Broadway and having confidence in yourself I believe is a first step in the right direction. If you have a millimetre of doubt in your body there are a hundred people lined up beside you oozing confidence and ability that will step right over you in a heart beat.
Clarity, knowing exactly what it is you’re after and staying focused on your goals. It’s very easy to be distracted or persuaded of the track. When you stay true to yourself its amazing the opportunities that come to you.
Lastly, of course, there’s determination. Stamina and hard work is a given, you don’t get something from nothing!
Do you have any advice for our Aussie readers who are dreaming of heading to Broadway?
Never stop dreaming or believing. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, cause the moment you open that door, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. Stay focused, work hard and be passionate about what you do. Have the courage to leap and the net will appear.
What three values do you think have helped you be successful in the entertainment industry?
Inspiration, dedication and in all things, love.
I know it sounds corny right ? I hold these 3 values close to my heart.
I feel it’s so important to stay inspired. Continue to learn, listen and grow as a person and a performer. I always pay attention to detail and dedicate myself to my work. It’s the finer details that make life and art interesting. With all these things in mind I believe they have helped me to be successful in the industry.