NEW YORK CITY — Countless auditions, multiple side hustles to make ends meet, and seemingly never-ending rejection. It’s all a day in the life of an actor trying to make it on Broadway.
That’s why Kalyn West, Holladay resident and one of the stars of Broadway’s seven-time Tony Award-nominated “The Prom,” wanted every advantage she could get before moving to the Big Apple. To West, who grew up in Holladay and graduated from Olympus High, that meant getting her Equity card before moving back East.
Having that card and being an official member of the actors' union “would make my life tremendously easier,” West said in a recent interview. It meant avoiding 5 a.m. wake-up calls to stand in line at auditions in hopes the casting director might let her audition. That Equity card guaranteed her a spot in the audition room.
But first she had to get that card.
During the summer of 2013, West graduated in musical theater and anthropology at Weber State University and focused all of her energy on earning enough Equity points to qualify for the union.
It didn’t take long. Shortly after, West was cast as MoHanna in “Saturday’s Voyeur” at Salt Lake Acting Company. To keep its classification as a professional theater, Salt Lake Acting Company is required to have a certain number of Equity actors in their productions. This can sometimes result in offering amateurs like West their Equity card.
“We chose Kalyn because she had her eyes on NYC and had the talent and sparkle for Broadway,” said Cynthia Fleming, executive artistic director at Salt Lake Acting Company. “When Kalyn is on the stage, you can’t take your eyes off her."
With her Equity card in hand, West bought a plane ticket as soon as the summer was over and she saved up enough money for the trek. A month later, on Oct. 1, 2013, she boarded a plane headed for New York City.
“I think a lot of people think you have to have it all figured out before you jump,” West said. “You jump and you figure it out as you're landing.”
Making it to Broadway
West got to the city and didn’t have an apartment or a job.
“I told my mom, 'I’m going to figure it out.' My biggest goal was just to get here,” West said from a park just steps away from the Longacre Theatre, where she performs eight nights a week in “The Prom.”
She crashed on a friend’s couch for a while, and another friend helped her get a job at a restaurant. Even with an Equity card, making it on Broadway hasn’t been easy. It took five years of auditioning, performing in regional productions and working multiple jobs (at a restaurant, a nonprofit, in real estate and at a fitness studio) to finally make it on the Great White Way.
It wasn’t until West landed an agent at the Talent House agency that things really started opening up for her in the acting world.
“That was a game-changer for me,” West said. “I now had a team on my side who believed in me, and would fight for me. They took things to the next level. I was able to focus on my quality of work while still being able to work a part-time job and support myself. Their partnership has given me freedom and strength in so many ways."
She booked Mimi in “Rent” in Ft. Worth, Texas, and an off-Broadway role in “Gigantic.” She also performed as Vanessa in “In the Heights” and Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Then, in January 2018, she booked a four-week lab presentation of “The Prom,” a story about a small-town high school PTA that cancels the prom rather than allow two girls to attend together.
West stayed on with the production after the lab, and ended up joining 13 others in making their Broadway debuts at the Longacre Theatre in “The Prom” that fall.
Starring in the ensemble as Shelby and understudying leads Alyssa and Emma was "a magical, amazing dream" come true for West.
"There is so much energy and love on that stage — I've never experienced anything like it," West said. "It's a blessing to be up there every day."
West went on as one of the leads, Alyssa, on July 10. It was her first time as a lead on a Broadway stage. She had been preparing for that moment since September 2018.
"It felt a little bit like walking underwater, just taking myself moment to moment and making sure I was in the right places at the right times," West said. "But that bow was joy! I was only the tiniest bit nervous, but it always disappeared as I got onstage and just fell into the journey of the show. I am so proud and grateful to have told her story even once."
“The Prom” is closing on Aug. 11 after 23 previews and 323 regular performances. The closing notice was heartbreaking for West, who said the cast has truly become a family.2 comments on this story
“All of us are monumentally proud of what we’ve done on that stage and out in the community,” West said. “The show is going on tour, they are turning it to a Netflix movie and a youth novel, so the story is going to continue to touch people’s lives and affect change and that ultimately is the intention of this story.”
West can't say exactly what's next ("It's a secret," she said) but she's excited about the future.
"I can't say, but I do have a couple things in the works that I am really excited about," West said. "When we received our closing notice, I didn't (have anything lined up, but) stuff in New York City can happen so fast. It's all such a ride."