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Posted April 3, 2006

To Work or Not To Work (Without an Equity Contract) That is the question; Here is the answer:

When is it okay for me to work without an Equity contract?

The best and the shortest answer is "never." There is never a reason for an Equity member to work without a contract. Accepting such work undermines the union's considerable efforts to maintain standards for professional actors and stage managers. Often, by involving Equity, terms can be reached with even the most reluctant producers to bring the show under contract.

But this theatre is really small-time… But this gig is really short… But I'm just doing it as a favor…

Equity has endeavored to be flexible by creating contracts that cover all levels of work. Agreements such as Special Appearance, Guest Artist, Business Theatre and Staged Reading can often be utilized to bring the work onto Equity contract. If you're wondering, call Equity!

But this is a benefit performance…

Benefit performances using Equity members must be approved by Theatre Authority. Joyce Vinzani, at Equity in New York, can help producers through the process and can answer any questions members may have.

What about shows not in Equity's jurisdiction?

You should call Equity and ask. Sometimes the producer will say it is covered by Equity, but it is not. Sometimes the work is in an area we are attempting to organize. Sometimes it is in the jurisdiction of a sister union. In any case, you may not accept the employment. The charter of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4As - the umbrella organization for all of the performer unions) calls for the discipline of members of one union who are working without contract in the jurisdiction of another union.

I live in a "right-to-work" state. Doesn't that mean I have the right to work without an Equity Contract?

No. It does not. "Right-to-work" does not impact upon your obligations as an Equity member. Once you have joined, you have agreed never to work without an Equity contract.

What could happen if I am discovered working without benefit of contract?

First of all, there is the moral penalty of knowing you have betrayed your fellow union members. But there are steep tangible liabilities as well. In accordance with Equity's Constitution and By-Laws, a Charges Hearing Committee is convened. It hears the case and decides on the remedy. Penalties can include fines, letters of apology to the membership, and even mean expulsion from the union.

Can I resign to work non-Equity, then rejoin?

Equity membership is a hard-won honor and something of which to be proud. Many actors dream of the day they "get their card." It is not a commodity to be traded for financial gain or convenience. Unfortunately, some actors do make the choice to leave Equity to take non-union work. Often, those actors wish to rejoin the union later. In that event, their case must go before the President's Planning Committee. Sometimes the actor is allowed to rejoin (after paying any fines and/or fees--including initiation--that may be exacted), and sometimes not.

What if my agent sends me for non-Equity work?

Equity's agency regulations state that an agent who knowingly advises a member to seek non-union employment is subject to a fine of $5,000 for a first offense and additional penalties, including loss of franchise for subsequent offenses.

But I still have more questions…

Not surprising. Even long-time members like Kate Burton have admitted to us that these can be tricky questions.

If you have questions, contact Equity before committing to a project. Call or e-mail Flora Stamatiades, National Director, Organizing and Special Projects, at (212) 869-8530 or

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