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AEA President

From the President

By Nick Wyman

July 28, 2014

AEA President Nick Wyman

President Nick Wyman
photo credit:

Actors like mirrors. (Although some joker keeps putting wrinkles and a chicken neck in my mirror.) We stare into them in dressing rooms and watch ourselves in them in dance class. We use them to practice bits, expressions, lines, dance steps.

Mirrors are important metaphorically. We are supposed to be mirrored by our parents. (Maybe that’s where that chicken neck came from.) We ourselves are supposed to be a mirror to the audience. “Hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature,” said the Bard. An audience should see itself reflected and should recognize itself onstage.

A play can mirror an audience even when the actors look completely different. I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Tupac Shakur musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, and Mike Lew’s play Tiger Style! The worlds depicted therein of urban African-Americans and super-achieving Asian-Americans respectively are not my world; but, I thoroughly enjoyed both pieces, and I identified with both the struggles and anxieties and triumphs and failures of the characters.

I got to thinking about mirrors and the universal need to be mirrored a few weeks ago when, in the space of a few days, I went to an entirely Asian-American production of Oliver! by Baayork Lee’s National Asian Artists Project; heard a friend with a disability talk about the difficulties she anticipated in crossing the new sky lobby in the New York City office building; went to a dinner honoring the New York City chapter of the NAACP, and read the Kilroys’ list of 46 women-authored plays recommended by playwrights, dramaturgs and artistic directors.

To paraphrase Walt Whitman: We are large, we contain multitudes.

And what glorious multitudes! What a blessing it would be if all the disparate elements of our polyglot culture saw themselves regularly on our nation’s stages. It would not just create employment opportunities for the broadest array of our members, it would build audiences. (It thrilled me to see African-American audiences streaming into the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun.)

Actors’ Equity has worked for decades to see that the diversity of our nation is reflected on our stages. Equity led the battle to integrate the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. All our contracts have language promoting equal opportunity and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.

Equity has long championed non-traditional casting, particularly where race, gender or disability are not germane to the character. This approach can open up, not only individual opportunities such as Nikki James’ Éponine in Les Misérables or Ann Harada’s step-sister in Cinderella or Chuck Cooper’s producer in Act One, but also entire casts such as the recent Broadway revivals of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire or Baayork’s Oliver! For an inspiring take on these possibilities, check out the mission statement of Theater Breaking Through Barriers (

As a middle-class, nondisabled white male, I am keenly aware of the doors in our culture and society that I stroll blithely through, doors that to others are barely ajar or closed or inaccessible or even locked. I and the Association are committed to opening doors, to providing opportunities to all our members. We don’t have hiring halls, we can’t give anyone a job; what we can offer members is access and opportunity — and sometimes only the pledge to keep fighting for access and opportunity.

That access and that opportunity benefit both sides of the mirror between audience and actor: More people see themselves physically represented onstage and audiences learn to see themselves in different physical representations. I firmly believe that this makes for a better mirror, one that serves both art and society. Now if we could just get rid of that chicken neck in my mirror.

Contact President Nick Wyman at


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When Good Shows Go Bad

Make Your Own Luck

Mentor Up. Mentor Down.

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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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