Actors’ Equity Association Permanently Opens Access to Membership

Union to Phase Out Equity Membership Candidate Program

New York -- Actors’ Equity Association, the national union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, is making its Open Access membership policy permanent. With a pathway to membership now available to all stage managers and actors with professional experience, the union will begin a three-year phase out of its Equity Membership Candidate Program.

Since July 2021, the union has allowed any theatre worker who can demonstrate they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographical jurisdiction to join. Previously, eligibility for union membership had been limited to those working for an Equity employer – whether by direct contract offer or through the Equity Membership Candidate program – or to members of a sibling union. When Equity first broadened access to membership, the policy included an expiration date of May 1, 2023, while union leaders would develop a plan to open access permanently.

“Open Access is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle. “Of course, strength in numbers is a cornerstone principle for any union. But this was never a simple numbers game. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union. Open Access is about providing a pathway to Equity membership that doesn’t depend on our employers, or on our industry’s hiring practices. In the 18 months since we launched, we’ve seen a significant increase in the diversity of our new members. Joining a union is a deeply personal decision, and I’m proud that Open Access has moved that decision into the hands of actors and stage managers themselves.”

In 2020, 26% of Equity members who shared demographic information with the union had identified as people of color. Since the launch of Open Access, roughly 38% of members joining through the initiative who self-identified were people of color.

Equity will no longer admit new EMCs to the program beginning May 8, 2023. Current EMCs will maintain audition access for a three-year period. All fees paid to the EMC program may be applied to union initiation fees. As of May 8, 2026, EMCs will no longer be recognized for prioritized audition access and will be seen on the same basis as other non-Equity actors.

BACKGROUND: In July, 2021, Equity announced a new Open Access membership policy, allowing any theatre worker who can demonstrate they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographical jurisdiction to join the union. The Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) Program, established in 1978, gave membership candidates time to work alongside Equity members at Equity theaters while earning credit towards eventual membership in Equity. The program was last updated in 2017 to ease the requirements for union membership.

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA.  #EquityWorks

February 8, 2023

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