On July 20, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) announced that membership is now open to “any stage manager or actor who has worked professionally on a theatre production in the United States,” according to the union’s website.
The news, greatly expanding access to performers and stage managers who may have had years of experience but were not able to join the union without sufficient points earned, comes after a year-plus of unrest around dues payments, labor rights, and racial and political unrest surrounding Actors’ Equity.
AEA’s new Open Access policy was “passed overwhelmingly by council,” and admission will be granted to anyone who can prove they received compensation for a production in the United States. The eligibility will extend for two years, where application and initiation fee down payments are due for May 1, 2023.
To combat criticism of actors being made to pay dues during the time of COVID in which job opportunities were scarce at best, the union is also changing its payment policy: all existing members will have more time — three years — to pay off their initiation fee.
For those who are currently Equity Membership Candidates, the union said it would be emailing those active EMCs to notify them of the opportunity to join the union.
These efforts are in tandem with AEA’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work. In their statement, the union shared, “We have inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of people of color and people of other marginalized identities from the benefits of union membership.”
Response from theater professionals was mixed:
— Katie Claire (@KatieClaire7782) July 21, 2021
Open Membership to #ActorsEquity is going to strengthen our union, solidify our health & pension and make us a more equitable workforce.
Solidarity is a beautiful thing.
— Nick Westrate (@westratenick) July 21, 2021
— T.J. Newton (@tjnewtonnyc) July 21, 2021
The changes announced by #actorsequity mean that they can finally act like a TRUE UNION for theatre artists. Representation should not require years of work experience. Worker representation is a right.
— MissMicae (@MissMicae) July 21, 2021
I just saw #ActorsEquity’s news about membership! I’m crying! (Happy tears!) Lost my Equity status years ago when I couldn’t afford the initiation fee & though I’ve worked so often since then, I’ve never had an Equity job so I could never get back in the union. Now I can!?!? ‼️🙏🏾
— Tzena (@TzenaNicole) July 21, 2021
If #actorsequity has open access for the next two years, what’s the policy on current members rescinding their member status to do well-paying nonunion work and rejoining in 18 months? 😬
— Ryan DeNardo (@rydenardo) July 22, 2021