Kathryn V. Lamkey, Assistant Executive Director and Central Regional Director of Actors’ Equity Association, explains what non-Equity actors and non-Equity theatres should know about the union that represents more than 48,000 actors and stage managers in the United States. Contrary to many struggling actors’ belief that Equity’s primary goal is to prevent them from fulfilling their dreams of becoming fully professional working artists, the aim of Equity, shares Lamkey, is to help actors get jobs and to work with theatre companies to secure their employees without stifling their creativity. Even for non-members, Equity seeks to be a resource, not an obstacle. —CAR Theater Researcher John Carnwath
Can non-Equity actors audition for Equity parts? If so, how?
Each Equity agreement requires that the producer hold two sets of auditions: one for Equity members and another for those who are not members of the union. However, even at the Equity auditions, non-members may be seen if there is time. A waiting list is established at the Equity auditions, which gives Equity members priority, followed by EMCs [Equity Membership Candidates], and other non-Equity performers after that. Parts are not designated as Equity or non-Equity; it is at the Producer's discretion which parts he/she will hire on the union contract. However, the number of union contracts that need to be offered for each show is determined by the Equity agreement and can vary from signing 100 percent of the cast to contract or just signing one or two actors. In most companies, the stage manager must be signed to a contract, though there are exceptions.
At what point can new/small theatre companies consider becoming Equity houses? What is necessary for this process? How can they get information about this?
A new theatre company can approach Equity at any time to sign a standard Equity contract. However, most in Chicago begin with Equity under the "Tier N" program that is part of the Chicago Area Theatre Agreement (CAT). The Tier N program allows theatres to ease their way into the Equity scene. The initial requirements are: 1) theatres must be a 501(c)3; 2) have produced for two years, and 3) produce at least two shows per season. All interested theatres should contact the Equity office. They will be able to talk with a Business Representative who will explain all of the details. More than 60 theatres have used this program. It is a transitional program that lasts three to five years.
What happens if one member of a storefront theatre company gets an Equity card? Does that mean they will never be able to perform with their own company again, since it’s non-Equity?
This is often why theatres contact us to join the Tier N program. We always try very hard to make it possible for our members to maintain their relationships with their "roots." Again, the Equity office should be contacted to see what can be done. We really aren't the culture of "no."
How does Equity deal with nontraditional forms of producing theatre (e.g., improv, devised, or site-specific theatre)? And what about companies where community engagement or education are prominent features of the company's mission?
I sound like a broken record, but again, call the Equity office. We have Second City on contract, so we have experience working with improv-based companies. Site-specific work is a challenge, but we're game to see what we can do. Many of our Equity theatres have educational aspects, both teaching and performing. Generally we do not cover teaching, but we do cover performing in educational situations. We also have a Theatre for Young Audiences Agreement that can be used where appropriate.
For information on joining the Actors’ Equity Association and the Equity Membership Program, click here.
Kathryn V. Lamkey is the Central Regional Director for Actors’ Equity Association. She has been with AEA since 1986, becoming CRD in July 1996. She has worked as a Stage Manager, Director, and Lighting Designer, and before coming to AEA, served as General Manager for a modern dance company. She began her career as a high school social studies and theatre teacher. She is a past president of the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Coalition. She holds a BS in Education from Eastern Illinois University and a BA in Broadcast from Columbia College-Chicago.