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February 19, 2004


Rob Roznowski

Update on Membership Education and Outreach Program

Program Has Reached 1500 Students at 25 Colleges and Universities With Resounding Success – New Adjuncts Trained for Eastern Region

Roznowski Uses Scene Work, Theatre Games and Interactive Components To Get Students and New Members Involved

Equity’s Council, at its meeting on February 19, 2004, received a report from Equity’s Membership Education and Outreach Director, Rob Roznowski. The program, which brings a positive union message and information about Actors’ Equity to college level students, has been a resounding success. Following are highlights from Rob’s report:

“When I took over the position from former Membership Education Director, Christopher Eid in early September, I had many goals and many questions. Before starting work, I wrote to all of my Equity friends and asked them what they felt was lacking in the union. During the transition with Mr. Eid, I spoke with many Councillors and Staff members, and discovered places where these disgruntled members could turn for answers. I began to clearly define what my role at Actors’ Equity was to be: to demystify the union for potential members, humanize the union for new members, and assist long-time members in finding the resources they need. Even after narrowing my focus to those three lofty goals, I still had many projects on that list. Six months later, my list continues to have some of those original issues with the addition of many new entries.

My main attention has been on the Outreach seminars. Although Christopher created a very thorough seminar, I decided to physicalize some of the issues brought up in his seminar using my background in education. Through my presentations at the Regional Board meetings, members have seen the ways I use scene work, theatre games, and improvs to get the students involved in understanding what this union can do for them. Through constant refining and a few scary sleepless nights trying to figure out PowerPoint, I am quite proud of the seminar.

In just six months, I have presented the seminar over 25 times in 15 different states at 25 institutions to nearly 1,500 students and brought in close to $3,000 dollars in donations to the union. My most recent trips have included several regional college theatre festivals. At those events, I have reached a large number of serious theatre students whom in turn pass on the information. What amazed me most in traveling to those seminars is that the general feeling of students was that Equity was not something to aspire to (like when I was a student); it was something to avoid. Non-union touring proliferates in these schools. All of their friends are doing it and report to them the great time, treatment and perks of such a life. It is only after the seminar where they have seen the history of the union, its standards, and benefits when they start to value their worth as performers and confront their misconceptions.

The best debate happened at Shenandoah University with 175 students. A non–union tour starring some recent graduates had just been through town, and cast members visited the school a week earlier telling them how wonderful everything was. The seminar, scheduled for ninety minutes, turned into a heated three-hour debate. The unified message to all of these students has been a plea for ethical responsibility to actors past, present and future, or at the least the hope for internal organization if they must accept work on these shows. Clearly, these seminars lay the groundwork for a new generation of savvier actors who make the right decision at the right time to join Equity.

Recently, I worked with Linda Mays, President of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and her staff to help them with their own Outreach Seminar. In late January, three adjuncts were hired to expand the program regionally. This phase of the program will be reviewed in late June to decide if National expansion is warranted.

In between the potential members and our newest members stand the EMCs – Equity Membership Candidates. At my first New Member Reception, a former EMC said to me, “You wanted my $100 and then I never heard from you again.” I thus added to my growing list of projects a series of benefits to the EMC program. Alan had asked me to begin work on a Student Associate program in combination with my Seminars. I, in good conscience, could not begin a program benefiting people not yet associated with Equity when there were so many disgruntled EMCs I had met both here and on the road. In the proposal you will hear soon, I tried to solve many of those issues I have heard from EMCs while keeping costs to a minimum. I hope you will approve the implementation of EMC cards, an EMC newsletter, some EMC benefits, and a revised welcome letter. My hope is once that program is in place, we may begin to similarly model the Student Associate program. All monies collected for that program I hope to place in a scholarship fund through the Foundation. Although details of awarding the scholarship must be ironed out, our commitment to future generations of Actors and Stage Managers is something we could all be proud of.

My next responsibilities were aimed at making our newest members feel welcome. I began writing a few separate documents to solve some issues mentioned by Equity Central Regional Director Kathryn Lamkey, Alan Eisenberg and others. Those documents were all lighter in tone, distilling the lawyerly Equity–speak into a palatable, clear, and friendly language. Things like actors’ etiquette, navigating Equity, benefits, discounts, and audition codes were combined into a unified twenty-page handout. Those documents turned into the New Member packet, which was distributed at the last New Member Reception. I also wanted to make sure that the education our new members were getting across the country was unified, and I began work on making our New Member packet something that could be distributed nationally. I have competed a draft for the Central Region, which I believe they have used. My next step is to complete a Western packet -- and then one for Liaisons -- to use for their new members. By unifying our tone, while allowing for regional specialization, we can assure our newest members fair and equal treatment upon entering the union. By the end of March, I hope to post a New Member Reception PowerPoint show along with all documents for all regions to share.

At our last New Member Reception, we divided the capacity crowd into smaller groups, which allowed for a less intimidating place and which sparked a more personalized “Q and A” session. All of those changes again help demystify the union and impress upon new members their responsibility to protect other members and respect those who volunteer their time. I must make special note of Councillor Thomas J. Miller’s assistance throughout my time here. As chair of Membership Education, he has pushed for a very strong focus in all matters concerning educating our members.

The third part of my personal job description has been too assist long-time members in finding the resources or answers for their issues or problems. With the excellent assistance of Jeff Stanley (who regularly fills me in on protocol and who everyone is), we answer questions arriving in the info email box. We answer everything from where to turn when they have no health insurance to tuition allowances for members training to be yoga instructors. Since my arrival I have discovered so many places to point our disenfranchised members. I have also distributed documents in the lounge on discounts and benefits promoting the union’s work on members’ behalf. I assist Communications Director David Lotz in his excellent bi-monthly “In the Wings” member newsletter. We have our first Membership Education seminar coming up with Tonya Pinkins. Anne Fortuno and I have revamped “About Equity,” which is now ready for printing. Even with all of those projects crossed off my list, I believe the area of assisting long-time members is still one in which I have been lacking. Strangely, I feel most passionate about this area. Several times a month, I visit the Lounge and ask for opinions on what Equity has or has not done. Little issues spring up and fires are put out, but my long list still grows. Through the Foundation, my next major initiative is to begin a monthly brush-up class for members in each of the three regions. Although not nearly as large in scope as the SAG Conservatory or the AFTRA Stanley Green Media Center classes, these monthly technique classes would cover a wide range of subjects. That initiative is something I hope to implement in the summer.

With this update of the three areas of my focus -- educating potential, new, and established members -- I hope I have given you a clearer idea of my position. I thank you all for your support during the transition and welcome suggestions.

For more information about Equity's Membership Education and Outreach Program, contact Rob at 212-869-8530 extension 424, or via e-mail: info@actorsequity.org.

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