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AEA President

From the President

Substantive Work
By Nick Wyman

November 5, 2013

AEA President Nick Wyman

President Nick Wyman
photo credit:

By Nick Wyman
Substantive work is what I think we’re all looking for: work that means something, work that challenges us, work that makes a difference. Sometimes that’s a meaty role, sometimes it’s being a modest part of a terrific production, sometimes it’s just a job that makes a significant contribution to our monthly nut.

As I travel the country during our centennial celebration, I am struck by how rare those opportunities are for most members. How can your elected leaders and your staff create more opportunities for substantive work? How do we turn non-union employers into union employers? What other similar work might we organize? How can we improve the wages and working conditions of the contracts we currently have? How can we make it more possible for our members to do more of the work they love and make a fair wage while doing so?

I recently read some doomsday article in the newspaper about the decline in education skills in the US and the concomitant lack of skilled workers. The article also discussed the polarization of the workforce between well-paying jobs for skilled laborers and lowpaying/ minimum wage jobs for unskilled laborers as middle-skill jobs and good-paying lowskill/no-skill jobs disappear.

Our industry has a much different problem: we have too many skilled workers. The number of colleges and universities offering a degree in Theatre or Musical Theatre has increased dramatically (sorry) in the last couple of decades. Thousands and thousands of well-trained actors and stage managers are added every year to a work force that has the capacity to absorb only hundreds. The good news/bad news side effect of this is that these universities employ hundreds of our members (Yay!) to teach these aspiring actors and stage managers, yet they frequently pay them shamefully low wages (Boo!) as instructors or adjunct professors with no health or retirement coverage. (I was delighted to hear at the AFL-CIO convention of the efforts of the United Steelworkers (!) to organize
adjunct professors at Duquesne University.)

You don’t have to be an economist to understand the downward pressure that a surplus of highly skilled workers places on wages. Live theatre has always had far fewer work opportunities than qualified workers; the situation is only getting worse. So what are we
going to do about it?

At our recent plenary session, Council voted to reinvigorate the Executive Committee established in our Constitution. This 17-person body will deal with issues that need a quick response before the next Council meeting. It is my hope that eventually the Executive Committee — which is not empowered to create or change Association policy —will take on all of Council’s regular boiler-plate work (such
as receiving of reports, approving schedules, negotiating teams, committee appointments, etc.) so that the whole National Council — 83 skilled workers — can bring their full focus and attention to policy questions such as the ones detailed above.

You have an extraordinary body of elected leaders — all volunteer, all dedicated — and an excellent staff working for you. Like you, we are just looking for Substantive Work. I think we’ve found ours. I hope we can help you find yours.

Contact President Nick Wyman at


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From the President Archives:

To Join or Not to Join? My Rejoinder

Wait ’Til This Year!

Attention Must Be Paid

Beginners, Please

One Voice: 50,058 Strong


Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

One for All, All for One All Over

Springtime for Equity


Keeping the Faith

Substantive Work

At the Big Table

What in the Heck am I Doing?

Telling Our Story

Why I Do Theatre

You Have a Dream

Abundance and Gratitude

When Good Shows Go Bad

Make Your Own Luck

Mentor Up. Mentor Down.

Mentor Up. Mentor Down.

Work Art and "Work"

CashCowasaurus vs. CatchMeasaurus

Can I Get Some Service Here?

Touring 101 or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Touring 102 - A Look at the Business Model of Touring

Exit, Gracefully, a Champion

Happy 100th Birthday

The Five C's

Love and Boundaries

Plenary Panoply

Which Side Are You On?

March 24, 2011
Marching in Madison

March 1, 2011
A Vision for All of Us

February 2, 2011
Three Requests

December 16, 2010
Earn Your "MBA"

November 4, 2010
Deputize Yourself

September 1, 2010
The Fall of the Twin Tiers

July 27, 2010

June 21, 2010
Thank You

Long-time Councillor Nick Wyman is elected the President of Actors' Equity Association

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