Actors’ Equity Association is the labor union representing theatrical actors and stage managers across the United States. While SAG-AFTRA negotiates contracts for film, television, and radio performers, Equity takes care of those who tread the boards—from Broadway and national tours to scores of regional houses. Perks of joining Equity include important protections, health and pension, collective bargaining, and much, much more, and getting that card is a major milestone in many actors’ lives. Whether you’re just starting out or a decade into the biz, here are three ways to join the Actors’ Equity Association.
1. Get an Equity Contract
While it may seem obvious, getting that first Equity contract can prove tricky. Depending on a variety of factors such as size of the house, budget, and ticket price, theaters may be operating with a limited number of Equity contracts per show or season. Those contracts are likely to go to actors who are members already, but not always. When a union contract is left over with no union member to fill it, it’s bestowed upon a qualified nonunion actor. That actor is now paid union wages and, more importantly, is eligible to join during his or her term of employment. Hired as nonunion but interested in joining? Particularly with larger companies, it may be worth asking for one or two contracted weeks as part of your negotiation process.
2. The Equity Membership Candidate Program
The EMC program is a great way to work towards union membership while gaining valuable early career experience. Mimicking an age-old theatrical apprenticeship model, Equity gives candidates the opportunity to earn their eligibility through 50 weeks of work in participating theaters. Once enrolled in the program, candidates earn one point for every eligible week worked; 50 points (and 50 weeks) later, EMC actors are welcomed into the union.
3. Join Through a Sister Union
Another route to an Equity card? Actors can buy in after a year’s membership in one of Equity’s sister unions, with at least one principal contract or three background contracts worked. Eligible unions include SAG-AFTRA, AGMA (the American Guild of Musical Artists), AGVA (the American Guild of Variety Artists) and GIAA (the Guild of Italian-American Actors). Actors wishing to join through a sister union must provide proof of membership (and good standing), evidence of jobs worked within that one-year time frame, and at least $400 towards the Equity initiation fee—which currently stands at $1100.
As with SAG-AFTRA, joining Equity is a big decision, and a big commitment! Equity actors are barred from taking nonunion contracts, so nonunion tours, certain Off-Off Broadway companies, and some small regional theaters may be off limits to members. On the brighter side, Equity actors enjoy tons of perks like salary protections and healthcare—and don’t forget access to EPAs and ECCs—alongside 50,000 talented fellow members.