by Sami DeSocio
Ah, the equity card! The piece of paper that a stage actor carries with them at all times that tells people they’re a professional. They’ve “mastered” the craft, and if you want them in your show- you’re going to have to pay them!
All upcoming stage actors want it. It means more work, notoriety, and maybe even a big Broadway show! It means you can make an appointment with an audition, walk in, show your equity card, and be seen- no more cattle calls for the card-carrying member! But is having the card worth it? Now before you all yell a rounding reply of “Yes! Of course, it is!”, hear me out!
According to their website, in order to join Actors Equity, you can either get into a show that is a contracted equity show or join by being a member of one of their four sister unions. I won’t go into a whole lot of the technical detail, but know you can only apply to equity while you’re in an equity show. And you need to have a certain number of weeks, and after that, it’s $100 right off the bat (which come off your dues), or $400 if you’re joining through one of the sister unions!
After that, it should be smooth sailing right? Go through your weeks (50 weeks for consideration for equity), pay your initial fee, and then pay your dues and done, right? Wrong! Now you have to abide by the rules set forth by equity. That means, your beloved summer stock program that you’ve been with since you were in high school that does just the best shows year after year, all of which you’ve been in without exception—well, you can’t do them anymore! From here on out, you can only take work from equity productions, unless you have special permission from equity to do something, not theirs. Even if you withdraw temporarily, you still can’t do non-union work. Remember, at the end of the day Actors Equity is a union, and like other unions, you can’t do non-union work as a member! The only exception to this rule is children under the age of fourteen, while they’re in school they can temporarily withdraw to do a school production, but again they need equity’s permission to do so.
Once you’re accepted, you’re expected to pay dues like any other union. Currently (according to their website), the dues for Equity are $1100 and are due within six months of filing an application to join. You then pay dues every November and May (not sure at what cost), and then working dues which are deducted from your check.
There’s all the bad news! But the good news is, as long as you pay your dues and keep working- you’re golden! The union provides workman’s comp, unemployment, and of course health benefits to its members! It also provides the actor an opportunity to work (and be paid!) for their craft. They have guarantees and protections like clean workspaces, guaranteed salaries, and other things such as protection from people not recording them without producer permission (otherwise known as why they tell the audiences not to record performances!).
What does this all boil down to? Well, getting the equity card means you’ve made it. In whatever form you take that in you’ve made it. You’re a professional and from there on out will be treated as such each time you walk into a theatre. And every equity member knows the rules and regulations off the top of their heads to ensure they’re taken care of and not breaking any rules.
And the only one who can decide if the card is right for you is you. If you don’t want to give up the community theatre and summer stock, this card is not something you want. But if you dream of the great white way and the Broadway stage-then get cracking!