NYC New Member Reception
"Playing With the Big Boys and Girls."
By Daniel Gundlach
Ann Harada was the Guest Speaker for AEA’s New Member Reception held on Thursday, May 17, 2012 in New York City. The event was hosted by Mark Aldrich, Equity Councillor and Chair of the Eastern Region Membership Education Committee and currently appearing on Broadway in NEWSIES. Equity’s newest Members, originally hailing from 13 different states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, London, and New Zealand, received informational packets, and raffles were held featuring Equity, Actors Federal Credit Union and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS giveaways.
This fall, Ms. Harada celebrates her 25th anniversary as an Equity Member. She is perhaps best-known for originating the role of Christmas Eve in AVENUE Q. For her work in that show, Ann received the Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance and Puppet Artistry.
Her other Off-Broadway credits include THE KID; LOVE, LOSS and WHAT I WORE; CHILDREN OF EDEN; THE MOMENT WHEN; AMERICA DREAMING and ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE. Her Broadway credits include 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL; LES MISERABLES; HAIR; CHESS; SEUSSICAL and M. BUTTERFLY. Ann can be seen in the hit TV series, Smash.
The Best "Me" That I Am
Ann welcomed the new Members, saying, "I congratulate you for coming this far and for pursuing your dreams. We’re all in this together, playing with the big boys and girls." Ann joined Equity in 1987 when she "was cast in an off-Broadway show at Manhattan Theatre Club."
She moved to New York immediately after attending Brown University and began working as an unpaid intern for a Broadway producer. Uncertain of her ability as an Actor, Ann was reluctant to jump into the fray until she realized that "there was room for people of all abilities, experiences, and looks..." She recommends "put the insecurity aside as much as you are able and know this is the best me that I am."
AVENUE Q, London Cast
She encouraged her colleagues when auditioning not to prejudge themselves "Always prepare and present yourself in the best light possible and do the best you can. If you’ve done that, you’ve had a successful audition… You can’t succeed unless you go out there a lot and just keep firing away." She shared that she "never wanted to do anything but be in the theater. If I hadn’t been an Actor I would have found something else in the theater to do; like being a dresser, or a stage manager, or a stagehand, or an usher. My saving grace was that I knew as long as I was committed to a life in the theater - I would have one. And I have, in a variety of shapes and ways."
The Wrong Age for Twenty Years
The floor was then opened to questions. Ann was asked how her career changed once she had representation. She explained that she found a manager (as opposed to an agent) after she had been acting for a year. The manager was someone she had met during her work as an intern for the Broadway producer. "I did a cabaret show and [the manager] came and she offered to send me [out] freelance. She would get me auditions and meetings and… when I booked something, she would negotiate the contract. Although she died two weeks ago, her office is the only representation I've ever had." When seeking an agent, she encouraged actors to "try to find somebody who can see not just who you are today, but what you might become." She noted how difficult it was early in her career when she couldn’t seem to get hired. "It hurts when you can’t get into the shows that all your friends are in." It seemed that "for twenty years I was the wrong age for my type." But, she observed, "Once I got a little older, I started working a lot."
Asked if her perspective on life and the business had ever undergone a dramatic shift? Ann replied that after her child was born "there was suddenly something more important in the world than what job I had at any given time. Having a child gave me permission to sometimes say no. It’s difficult when you’re single not to obsess about the next job, but as your world expands and you maybe get a partner or a child, you realize, okay, there are other important things."
New Equity Members
How does she manage to juggle her performing life with motherhood? Ann answered, "It’s really hard. And I don’t get enough sleep… Every working Actor mom-and-dad that I know has the same issue. [It’s especially hard] if you’re on a show schedule, and you’re up late and then you have to get up really early. You try to nap and have people you can count on as your babysitters and your backups… You make it work however you can."
Ann finished by stating: "We all just want to work and have that amazing experience. I assume everyone here had their life transformed by the theater at some point. For me, [even] twenty-five years later, I still find the theater fulfilling. And whether it’s Broadway or off-Broadway or a regional theater or some black box downtown, it’s the same wonderful transformational experience I first felt in high school. All we can do is to honor and serve the theater in our own unique way and be happy we’re there."
Education Committee members distributed sparkling cider after which Ann led the traditional New Member toast written by theatre critic Walter Kerr. Tom Miller, Equity’s Director of Education & Outreach, reminded new Members of the many perks available to them and explained the threefold functions of Equity: negotiating contracts, administering contracts, and advocating on behalf of Members.
Tom then introduced Rebecca Kim Jordan, Equity’s Second Vice President and David Westphal, Staff liaison to the Advisory Committee of Chorus Affairs (ACCA). The ACCA is charged with protecting, preserving and advancing all aspects of the chorus contract and chorus provisions for all of Equity’s National and Regional contracts. Rebecca Kim and David spoke about the wonderful Equity ceremony of the Gypsy Robe, a tradition begun in 1950 which takes place onstage on each opening night of a Broadway chorus musical. For more on the Gypsy Robe: actorsequity.org/AboutEquity/GypsyRobe/gypsyrobehome.asp . Rebecca Kim also encouraged new Members not to wait, but to become active in their Union.
During a short break, the original cast recording of Avenue Q played in the background while new Members posed for photos, snacked on refreshments, and (of course) networked.
Jim Brown of the Actors Fund spoke about the history of, and services offered by, his organization. The Fund was created in 1882 as a means to raise money burial money for actors who had died, since most churches refused to bury persons who had lived such profligate lives. The Actors Fund currently offers four different types of support to members of performing unions:
Further information on services and programs offered by the Actors Fund is available on their very thorough website: www.actorsfund.org
Negotiating the Labyrinth
Vincent Cinelli of the Equity-League Health Fund provided information about qualifying for medical, vision, and dental coverage under the plan jointly administered by representatives of the Producers and Equity. Members’ individual weeks of work under an AEA contract are reviewed quarterly, at which time the Fund determines if a Member has qualified for insurance. The current requirement is that if the Member has worked 12 weeks, they are eligible for six months of health insurance for a small quarterly premium; for 20 weeks of work, the Member qualifies for 12 months of coverage for the same premium.
New Members were informed that the Health Fund is a separate entity from AEA; therefore any changes in address or contact information must be reported separately to both entities. A new benefits system is being implemented and is near completion. Members will be able to access clearer benefits information via the Fund’s website: www.equityleague.org.
Preventing Ruined Relationships
Calandra Hackney, Equity’s Agency Business Representative, concluded the information portion of the reception with advice about agents. She clarified the distinction between Equity Franchised Agents, who "have agreed to the terms and regulations set by Equity," and Managers, who "are not regulated by Equity or by State or Federal government."
Calandra also clarified the two different types of agent contracts: the Exclusive Management Contract, in which the Actor is exclusive to a particular agent; and the Specific Engagement Contract, in which the agent assists the Actor only with a single project. There is also the possibility of freelancing with one or more agents. Here Actors were cautioned to "be very cautious if you are freelancing with more than one agent. Being submitted for the same project by two agents can lead to nasty disputes." She also spoke about the commission schedule, which on its face is very straightforward, but which can be somewhat confusing. When working on a Chorus contract there is a 52-week rule: if you stay at a minimum salary for 52 weeks, you can elect, at the 52nd week after your first public performance, not to continue to pay your agent a commission. Actors were advised, in Calandra’s words, to "think twice about ceasing agent commission payments, because that can ruin the relationship."
Tom informed members that Actors Federal Credit Union actorsfcu.com, was formed in the 1960s by Actors for Actors. ACFU offers an array of financial services including low-interest loans and credit cards. He also mentioned the free income tax assistance services provided to members by VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) www.actorsequity.org/benefits/vita.asp. Mark Aldrich instructed attendees to periodically check the AEA website for free Career Workshops and Seminars.
NYC New Member Receptions are held several times a year. The fun, informational gathering was sponsored by the Eastern Region Membership Education Committee. If you were unable to attend the most recent event, the next Reception will be held in the Fall. Watch Equity's website for date and time.
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