NEW YORK — "Modern Family" Jesse Tyler Ferguson might be a star now, but he remembers those awful days sweating it out in front of casting directors.
"I've had many horrible, horrible auditions. They're tucked away. I try not to remember them. There are too many to name, actually," he says, ruefully. "You go into those situations desperately needing that job. Whether or not you want it or not, you need it to survive — you need the paycheck."
Ferguson is revisiting his lean early years in a cameo for "Submissions Only," a new online scripted sitcom wrapping up its second season that takes a hysterical behind-the-scenes look at the life of New York theater hopefuls.
Ferguson will join some of Broadway's brightest lights who have made appearances in the series, including Kristin Chenoweth, Chita Rivera, Cady Huffman, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Annaleigh Ashford, Max von Essen, Kristen Johnston, Adam Pascal, Michael Urie and Hunter Foster.
"We've definitely made friends through this process with people who I would never even dream of going up to at a party and then, suddenly, we're giving them direction on a set, which is hysterical," says Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who together with Kate Wetherhead, created, writes and stars in the show.
Each episode begins with an audition and the one featuring Ferguson — which airs April 27 on BroadwayWorld.com — has him belting out an original song — and eventually crashing and burning.
"It starts with him singing a song and it seems like things are going OK, but then it increasingly gets worse and by the end he's just a mess," says Wetherhead, who has also been on Broadway in "Legally Blonde."
"It's sort of the actor's nightmare," says Ferguson by phone from Los Angeles. "You get in your head too much and you start second-guessing everything too much. It's a really funny scene. You watch me fall apart."
Landing Ferguson wasn't hard: All three are friends. He and Wetherhead were both in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and Keenan-Bolger, who is currently on Broadway as Crutchie in "Newsies," played Ferguson's role when the show went on tour.
Ferguson was one of the first fans of the online show and offered to make a cameo if he was ever in New York. "We were just waiting for the timing to be right," says Wetherhead.Comment on this story
The show is shot on a shoestring budget — the second season's eight 15- to 20-minute episodes will only cost about $38,000 to make — but its creators have lured a lot of talent with something better than money. "While we can't promise a large paycheck, we can promise a short time on set since we have so little equipment," Wetherhead says with a laugh.
Ferguson agrees, saying the show is fun and the environment chill: "It was like going out and playing with friends for an afternoon."
The show has drawn comparisons to a grass roots "Smash" and its creators aren't miffed that NBC also has a show about the life of theater pros.
"If anything we want 'Smash' to succeed so that shows about the theater business become more palatable to a larger audience," says Wetherhead.