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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to Join Equity

For those of you who are already members of Equity- congrats! You can skip this article with joy. But for those of you who are still on the quest to get your card, this article is for you.

First, what is Equity?
Actors' Equity Association ("AEA" or "Equity"), founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 45,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members.

There are three main ways that you can get your Equity card:

1) Get cast in an Equity production in an Equity role, which earns you your card
This is the most obvious way to get your card (it is how I got mine.) Theaters are required by Equity to hold principal and, where appropriate, chorus auditions so that the local Equity membership can be seen for available roles. But sometimes, the right person for the job (you!) is a non-Equity actor. In this case, the theater will sign you to an Equity contract, and once you start rehearsals you can contact Equity about getting your card. Note: The theater does not pay your initiation fee (currently $1100) - they simply give you a contract that satisfies the requirement to receive your card. You'll also be responsible for basic dues ($118 per year, billed semi-annually) and working dues of 2.25%. Working dues are deducted from your paycheck.

2) Get cast in an Equity production in a non-Equity role and join the Equity Membership Candidacy Program, earning points towards earning your Equity card
Equity productions, depending on their contract, are required to hire a certain percentage of their actors from the Equity pool. But some productions, especially for those with large casts, have a number of slots available for non-Equity actors. When you accept this kind of role, you can call Equity and open up your Equity application. You'll pay $100 to get the application started, and for every week you work in a non-Equity theater (rehearsal and performance) you will receive 1 point. Collect 50 points, and you will earn your Equity card (and your initial $100 will be credited toward your initiation fee.) You'll also be responsible for basic and working dues. Note: there are limits to the types of theaters that are eligible for this program. Call Equity for an official list.

3) Be a member of a sister union and buy your way into Equity
If you are a member of SAG, AFTRA, AGVA, AGMA or GIAA, have been a member in good standing for the past year, AND you have worked on a principal or "under-five" contract or at least three days of extra ("background") work, you are eligible to join Equity under the 4As agreement. Again, you are responsible for paying the initiation fee, plus basic semi-annual dues. Note: Working dues are deducted from your weekly paycheck, as opposed to being billed to the actor at the end of the dues period like SAG.

There is another lesser know way to get into Equity, but this requires quite a bit of funds and a second job. If you are a theater producer, you can produce a show under an Equity contract, act in the show, and give yourself your Equity cards. Now, there are restrictions where this is concerned- the least of which is that you cannot do this with just any old contract. Equity stipulates that theaters have to be on a contract of a certain level in order to award contracts to non-Equity actors. This means that you would likely have to have a medium to large size production budget, and you'd have to pay quite a bit of money in salaries to all AEA actors involved. But it is possible if you have the cash.

I have been a member of AEA since 2001. I also served as 3rd chair on the Equity Liaison Committee in San Diego County in 2003 and 2004. I am now teaching "the business" to actors in NYC. If being a professional actor is your dream, I can help you get there. Contact me to set up your free consultation.

3 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

dramamom said...

My 17 year old son is joining AEA via AFTRA, will he still be able to act in his senior year high school plays? College plays? Will he need to get written consent for this? The reason he is joining is he has done quite a bit of professional theater already and is a member of AFTRA so is not really able to do non-union theater and wants to be able to go to Equity auditions as this is the only type of theater outside of school he is able to do being a sister union member.

Erin Cronican said...

This is a GREAT question, and I am so glad you asked it! I am going to post another blog in response to your question, and then I will post a link here so you can find it.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I have have question about Actors Equity health coverage. As an LA based actor, it seems to me that Equity Stage Managers are far more likely to qualify for health benefits than Equity Actors. Nowadays, only few Equity Actors who I know manage to quality for more than 6 months every few years, whereas I know stage managers who manage to maintain health benefits practically all the time. From what I see a disproportionate amount of Equity benefits go to stage managers even though the membership of the union is predominantly actors. Other than splitting into separate unions, is there any way to address this inequity???

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