You see an audition notice listed online or in Backstage, and you think, "Hmm, I'm right for that. But should I go to the EPA or the ECC?"
You may think that question may be answered simply by asking yourself, "Do I want a principal role or a chorus part?"
Don't be silly! They will cast both from both. In fact, you are probably auditioning for a chorus part regardless because they're most likely to cast the principal roles from agent appointments-- if those parts aren't cast already.
Before we trot down the ECC vs. EPA path, let's dispel some myths. You may have a jaded friend (or a friend who would like to be jaded because s/he associates jadedness with sophistication), and s/he has told you, "Oh, no one ever gets cast from Equity calls." You may have another friend who says, "Oh, my agent never gets me anything, I book all my work myself."
So what's a young actor to do? Who to believe? When do you say, "Fuck it?"
First, the statements from your wannabe friend both employ an element of what Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness," which is to say, both sound true, but neither is entirely true. The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in the middle.
Out of every show cast, I would guesstimate that one or two contracts originate from Equity calls. But remember, auditioning is not just about booking the job. At EPAs and ECCs you meet both new and established casting directors. You work on material, you hone your audition skills. You figure out which are your lucky outfits. You get into the habit of showing up and doing the work and letting the pieces fall where they may. In short, you grow.
But sometimes it's not worth it. If the show a.) has a really small cast (i.e., Last Five Years), or b.) is transferring from another venue, you can probably skip it. If it's transferring from another venue, most likely it will be bringing its cast with it. There might be a few tracks open for swings or for one random ensemble track. In that case, if you've swung a show before, or if you're a minority, attend the Equity call. (Does that sound jaded? Yeah, well, I've earned it. However, NEWS FLASH: swinging is a talent. It's the hardest job in show business. If you've done it, you will be taken seriously by any casting director in the City... as a swing. Like it or lump it, that's the way it is. Because swinging is a really valuable talent. Likewise, if you're a minority, you probably know already that shows come in from out of town with a completely white cast. They get to New York, and they're like, "Oh, black/Asian/Indian people exist?" And they replace at least one contract with somebody who is not white. This is progress. Werk it.)
So now that we've established that we're going to the Equity call, what can we expect from each?
I always recommend that a person show up to the ECC over the EPA. Obviously, go to whichever call fits best in your schedule. But all things being equal, I recommend the ECC because someone from the music/dance creative team is required to be there. This means someone with casting authority will watch you dance or sing. The EPA makes no such promise. You could be belting your tits off or kicking your face for an unpaid intern.
The list for the ECC is posted a week ahead of time to the minute at Actors Equity. Know that if the list posts at 9:30, bitches will get in line JUST TO SIGN UP at 7:45. #BelieveIt. So if you need to go in the first group, get there early. If you have several hours to audition on the appointed day, you can sign up at any time during the week prior the audition.
Be sure to show up a half hour before the audition is to begin so that the Equity monitor can read the list. This means that if the audition starts at 11:00, the monitor will read the list PROMPTLY at 10:30. (Equity monitors do not mess around.) If you have signed up, like, the day before the audition, and you're number 323, never fear. Two hundred fifty of those people won't show up, believe it or not, so you will be more like number 73.
The monitor will usually line you up in groups of 20. You are expected to sing 16 bars, which is roughly one minute of music. They can cut you off if you sing more than that, although they rarely do. If your song is 20 bars instead of 16, that's fine. Intros generally don't count towards the bar count, nor do four bars of a sustained note at the end. Just try to keep it to one minute.
Sometimes, if all 323 people actually show up, they will cut the audition down to eight bars, at which point this girl peaces out. Eight bars is bullshit.
Anyway, the 20 people in line will generally take 30 minutes to get through. So if you're number 73, you have a good 90 minutes before you're going to audition. Go get a coffee. But if you're number 33, don't go anywhere. And regardless, stay until the audition starts. There's always the chance they may "type," so be sure to hang around until you find out if that is happening. (Don't feel dejected if you get typed out. Typing is wonderful.)
The EPA has many advantages. You can choose your time during the given day, provided you're willing to get up early to sign up, and there are usually more days on which to audition. An ECC customarily occupies one day, with men in the morning and women in the afternoon, or vice versa, while an EPA may go on for three or four (not always consecutive) days. At an EPA you're allowed to sing 32 bars or a "short song," by which they mean a song that lasts two minutes, not one.
But that's where the advantages end. A member of the creative team is not required to be there, just someone from the casting office. That doesn't mean that one of the creatives won't be there, you just never know. If people from the creative team do attend, that's a good sign that they are looking for talent, not just going through the motions as required by the union.
To sign up for an EPA, you show up on the appointed day and choose an appointment time. Boom. From February to April in New York City, all of the appointment times fill up by 10:00. Sign up starts an hour before the first scheduled appointment. People start lining up as early as 6:AM. It's much more lax in the summer and fall, and there's also much more availability if the EPA spans the course of a few days.
Some casting offices are known for sending someone important to the EPA, while others are famous for not. Stephanie Klapper of Stephanie Klapper Casting can usually be found at her office's required calls. I attended a seminar of hers, and I remember her saying that the thing that hampers people at the required calls is the "air of desperation" that clings to the place... and to certain actors.
But that's not you, right? You're calm. You're focused and prepared and fierce. You're acting like you're having a blast, even though you totally aren't. Because you're an ACTOR and acting like you're having a blast is one of your special skills. And if they cut to eight bars, you are leaving because you aren't desperate.
Because eight bars is bullshit.