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March 9, 2005

Equity Archives at NYU Hold Union's History

With Equity approaching its centennial year in 2013, its files at New York University's Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives take on increasing importance as a resource for the Union and its members to look back on the history, heritage and traditions of the Association.

In the 1980s, as part of a federally funded project to preserve the labor history of New York, the Wagner Archives acquired a number of important collections from performing arts organizations, including Equity, The Actors' Fund, American Guild of Variety Artists, Musicians' Local 802, United Scenic Artists and the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (Four As).

Beginning in 1913
The Equity files begin with the Association's founding on May 26, 1913. Materials in the Archives trace the history from that point through the affiliation with the Four As; the so-called "revolt of the actors," the famous 1919 strike that brought Equity its first collective bargaining agreement; into the 1920s and 30s when guaranteed salaries, minimum wages and paid rehearsal time were won; up to the 1940s and '50s and the boycott of segregated theatres; McCarthyism and blacklisting of members; and on to the establishment of the pension plan following the 12-day Broadway blackout in 1960.

More than 60 cartons of memorabilia were added to the collection since Equity's initial donation in the 1980s.

Historical Highlights
Equity's collection, now contained in more than 240 cartons, includes: Council and Executive Committee minutes; records of showcase productions and benefit performances; publicity scrapbooks; studies on the impact of motion pictures and television on the Broadway stage; photographs of theatres and performers; materials relating to contract negotiations, arbitrations, and litigation; historical information about the impact of theatre on New York's economy, and the relationship of the theatre to city politics, and much more. The Equity Archives also document the complex relationship between performers, stage managers, theatre owners, investors and producers and how these have changed over time.

Valuable Resource
"These files are extremely valuable resources for students and scholars of performing arts history, theatre professionals and journalists. There is a steady stream of requests to use the material, but much is not catalogued and is in fragile condition," says Dr. Michael Nash, Director, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. To expedite the cataloguing, the Library hired a full time archivist several years ago to arrange and describe these materials; create exhibitions; prepare an inventory that will be accessible on the internet and preserve fragile documents, scrapbooks, playbills, advertisements and posters. As part of this project, too, many photographs and graphic images will be scanned and made available on the NYU website. Kevyne Baar, formerly a Business Representative in Equity's Los Angeles office who is currently writing her Ph.D dissertation on the Broadway blacklist, is now assisting with this undertaking. A guide covering AEA's first 50 years (1913-1963) has been created and is now available on the Tamiment Library website:

Donations Accepted
"A grant from Equity to the Library has allowed this work to begin," notes Dr. Nash. "But to move forward, more help is needed." If you would like to make a contribution to support this effort, contact Dr. Nash at Tamiment Library, New York University, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012; (212) 998-2428;

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