Working under the bright lights of Vegas

Las Vegas – home to glitzy neon lights, slot machines, endless amounts of alcohol, showgirls, and lots of air conditioning. It is a desert oasis that beckons luck-seekers from around the world, and the theatrical Wild West.

Oh, Vegas – thou art a fickle, fickle mistress! Theatre here is much like the city itself: transient, yet full of wonderful, talented and under-employed individuals. Theatrical offerings range from multi-million dollar Broadway productions offered in state of the art theaters on the Strip to 40-seat, warehouse productions of questionable legality featuring seats so awful your backside aches the moment you sit down.

Nearly every major hotel offers their own stage production, and they vary from revue-type spectacles to interactive dinner theatre and everything (and I do mean everything) in between. Casting for these stand-alone shows is generally done in-house, with audition notices posted on the major audition websites. You can expect several rounds of unpredictable, and let’s be honest, generally exasperating auditions before being cast. You may be asked to prepare sides or songs, but also be prepared to improv, sword fight, use scuba gear, dance seductively, or even run around a dirt ring (Those have all actually been required at auditions. Seriously.) Do not expect AEA points, pay, or perks from these shows. However, these productions generally feature local actors, singers and dancers – and are some of the only paid theatre opportunities for Las Vegas locals.

Casting for these stand-alone shows is generally done in-house, with audition notices posted on the major audition websites. You can expect several rounds of unpredictable, and let’s be honest, generally exasperating auditions before being cast. You may be asked to prepare sides or songs, but also be prepared to improv, sword fight, use scuba gear, dance seductively, or even run around a dirt ring (Those have all actually been required at auditions. Seriously.) Do not expect AEA points, pay, or perks from these shows. However, these productions generally feature local actors, singers and dancers – and are some of the only paid theatre opportunities for Las Vegas locals.

For the Broadway shows in residence (Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, etc.), AEA casting is generally done in NYC or LA, with occasional open calls done in Las Vegas. Audition notices, for the NYC and Las Vegas AEA and open calls, are posted on reputable websites like backstage.com. But, you should know going into a Las Vegas open call that the entire cast is generally brought in from out of state and supplemented very, very minimally by local talent. Actors wanting to work in the Broadway productions in Las Vegas need to audition in New York. What are the benefits of working in a Las Vegas Broadway tour production? Equity tour credit and pay, but Nevada’s incredibly low cost of living and 300+ days of sunshine every year.

Many Broadway shows have opened and closed in Las Vegas – even blockbuster musicals have flopped on the Strip (The Phantom of the Opera, Spamalot, and Avenue Q, to name a few). It’s not due to lack of quality – they were beautiful productions of Tony award winning shows. But the musicals with staying power in Las Vegas tend to be the feel-good shows that don’t require introspection from the audience. Jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages get middle-aged toes tapping and back onto the casino floor in good spirits. It’s an interesting comment on the nature of the city itself: people go to Vegas to escape and indulge. The entertainment currently succeeding on the Strip – jukebox musicals, Cirque du Soleil shows, magicians, etc. – offers exactly that.

Community theatre in Las Vegas does exist, however! Plays and musicals, from traditional musical theatre to Avant Garde original works, are mounted year round. Though mostly unpaid/volunteer roles, occasionally a stipend is offered to actors. Do not expect to pay your bills working in community theatre. You will need a reliable day job. Unfortunately, some community theatre groups in Las Vegas are poorly managed and/or downright unethical. The city is full of theatre companies pleading poverty while selling over-priced tickets to shows starring truly talented actors who aren’t being paid for their work. It’s a sad reality, but there are groups working to change that for the actors counted among the city’s nearly two million residents.

So, all is not lost! Las Vegas is chock full of dreamers and artists. The downtown area has been revitalized and the art district is thriving. Men and women are banding together and presenting beautifully honest works of depth and vulnerability. Though some local theatre companies recycle the same handful of shows and actors ad nauseum (Seriously, people, make it stop. There are more than five shows in the world! For the love of all that is holy, quit casting the same actors in every show. You’re killing me, Smalls!), there are a few visionary producers and directors taking risks and presenting interesting work worth experiencing. You may have to pay some dues with the boring/predictable local companies while you become familiar with the theatre scene in town, but eventually you will find like-minded artists that are doing the truly artistic work.

For many people, Las Vegas is not the final destination. Most professional actors end up moving from Las Vegas to New York or Los Angeles to pursue contracts that simply aren’t available locally. It’s not impossible to make it work in Las Vegas, but it is difficult. The good news is that the people you’ll meet and work with are some of the best humans you’ll ever meet, and you are guaranteed to have quirky theatrical experiences you definitely won’t find anywhere else in the world.


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