Washington’s Nanna Ingvarsson won a leading actress Helen Hayes Award playing Janet in “The Rocky Horror Show” with Woolly Mammoth in 1991. A few years later, performing with a Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences show, she joined Actors’ Equity Association.
But getting Equity work was tough. The city was increasingly awash with young leading ladies, and though the theatrical scene was blooming, the top troupes hired (and still hire) out of New York so often that D.C. actors sometimes adopted New York phone numbers, hoping to be taken seriously.
“Nobody was going to hire me,” Ingvarsson says. She dropped her membership so she could keep taking plum roles with shoestring troupes.
Kerri Rambow had a similar experience. About a decade ago, Rambow quit her Equity membership. Joining the union meant she couldn’t take nonunion roles, which were all that came her way.
“I had two Helen Hayes Award nominations, but I couldn’t get hired to save my life,” says Rambow, director of the current “Rabbit Hole” at the non-Equity Keegan Theatre. “I was furious with Equity that they would prefer to have us sitting around on our rears collecting unemployment rather than honing our craft working with smaller companies.”