For over a century, the Actors’ Equity Association (frequently referred to as simply Equity) has been one of the most prevalent labor unions in the entertainment industry.
With an active membership of over 49,000 stage actors and managers, if you work in theatre and haven’t already joined, you may want to consider signing up. The list of benefits offered by AEA are numerous, and many auditions are closed to non-equity members; however, there are a few factors to consider before becoming a member.
Here’s the low-down on how it all works.
What the Actors’ Equity Association Is
Formed in 1913 by a collective of 112 famous actors, Equity went on to become a defining force in the theatre industry and shaped US production into what it is today.
Notably, the Association has the distinction of being one of the few organizations to oppose the infamous Hollywood Blacklist in the 40s and 50s, and in the spirit of inclusiveness, has never barred anyone from membership based on their political leanings. It was also instrumental in channeling public funding into the arts, despite fierce opposition from Ronald Reagan, the American Family Association and others.
Prior to the formation of the Actors’ Equity Association, there were very few rules governing stage actors’ pay – in fact, very few could expect compensation for rehearsal time or any money should the show get cancelled prior to (or even during) its run. Contracts were even rarer still; according to AEA itself, when Francis Wilson, Equity’s first President, asked a manager when he would start to use the contract, the producer’s reply was very simple: “When you make me.”
These days, the Actors’ Equity Association primarily concerns itself with stipulating basic pay guidelines and establishing a standard work environment for both actors and managers alike.
In addition, AEA strives to improve equal opportunities, particularly in casting, and to greater promote the work of females, seniors, people of color and those with disabilities.
Equity Member Benefits
The number of benefits afforded to members by the Actors’ Equity Association are numerous; so much so, we couldn’t begin to cover them all here. However, a summary of such benefits include:
• Equitable Payment Standards: The primary focus of Equity’s work for 100 years: the fundamental right of fair treatment in terms of minimum salary, compensation for additional duties, overtime, and extra performances.
• Work Rules: With ever-evolving stage technology, Equity monitors and addresses safety issues like raked stages, smoke and haze exposure and sanitary rules, as well as limits on rehearsal hours, media promotion and publicity.
• Guaranteed Paycheck: Equity requires most producers to post a bond to ensure payments. This means that even if a show closes or a producer defaults, you still get paid and you still get home.
• Audition Access: Equity has negotiated required auditions for principal and chorus performers. Audition notices are posted on Equity’s website and on Casting Hotlines in various Liaison cities. Annually, over 1,300 audition calls are held in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, while hundreds more are held in other cities.
• Pension and Health Plans: Since 1960, Equity has required producers to contribute to pension and health trust funds.
Obligations From Members
As with any union, there are some obligations which active members will need to fulfill, though for the most part these are standard practices that any stage actor will want to adhere to, regardless of AEA membership status:
• Agreement to never rehearse or perform without a signed Equity contract.
• Timely payment of dues
• Maintenance of up-to-date contact information
• Endeavor to always give your best performance
• File a copy of your contract with Equity no later than first rehearsal
• Make no unauthorized changes in performance, costume, make-up or hairstyle
• Be on time for rehearsals and the scheduled half-hour
• Notify the Stage Manager before half-hour if you are ill or unable to reach the theater in time
In addition, members are encouraged to engage with the Actors’ Equity Association whenever able; as a democratic union, input and participation is highly appreciated, as is committee membership and activity.
How to Join the Actors’ Equity Association
If all of the above sounds agreeable and you feel you could benefit from membership with Equity, the best thing to do is to head on over to AEA’s official website. There you’ll find additional info on what you can expect from membership, including initiation fees and expected dues once you begin working Equity contracts.
Additional contact information:
NEW YORK CITY – National Headquarters
165 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
NYC Audition Hotline:
877-232-1913, ext. 831
10319 Orangewood Boulevard
Orlando, Florida 32821
Orlando Audition Hotline:
877-232-1913, ext. 821
557 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661
Chicago Audition Hotline:
877-232-1913, ext. 815
5636 Tujunga Avenue
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Fax: (323) 978-8081
Los Angeles Audition Hotline:
877-232-1913, ext. 826