UNION STRONG. Not just a slogan, it's why I make a living as an actor in the American theatre. I have served on Equity's Council previously and I offer my experience and work ethic to be your First Vice-President. I show up and do the job. A working actor who knows labor law; has negotiated and knows the ins and outs of contracts. I have a solid record of getting my hands dirty and being involved. All unions are under attack, including ours. We'll use our seat at the Big Labor table to stanch the bleeding. Part of a VP's job is to build cohesion and consensus in the Council. I've built a bridge or two in my time. Member since 1984. I serve at SAG-AFTRA, too (member since 1982). I've worked myriad contracts from low to high in most of the contiguous US.
Q.What is a First VP anyway?
And why are there 3 of 'em?
A.Equity’s constitution calls for five elected officers. In addition to the President and Secretary/Treasurer, there is a 1st Vice President who mainly performs Principal work; a 2nd VP, who chiefly performs Chorus work and a 3rd VP who works as a stage manager. One is not more important or vested with more clout than any other. And certainly there is cross over: Stage Managers who also act, Actors who have worked Principal and Chorus, etc., but they serve in their elected positions to be mindful of the need of their respective work categories.
"Don't mourn - Organize!" -- Joe Hill When most of us think of organizing, the image of bringing a fat cat industrialist to heel after a sit-in might come to mind. This “top-down” organizing is not the usual model for our industry, (although it does happen - Cirque Du Soleil) More often, the way we organize is to establish Equity contracts that will grow in influence and power over time. While this is not as dramatic as the top-down variety, it is the most enduring and effective. Non-union producers are not necessarily greedy or unfair, but often uninformed about working within the Equity sphere. This Equityphobia, if you will, comes from myths and miscommunication. And salaries are only a part of what Equity seeks to ameliorate. In trying to bring non-union producers into the fold, it is more to establish and maintain a way of working. The best way to get more of our members covered is to increase opportunities for work. We have to organize the parallel, non-union economy. We have the Guest Artist and SPT agreements as ready-made contracts. Step one is bringing theatres into the fold. Step two is aiding these theatre to grow and graduate to better and better agreements.
EPAs (Equity Principal Auditions) and ECCs (Equity Chorus Calls) are direct conduits to jobs. Some look askance at EPAs as the recourse of the neophyte or the desperate. I and many others get jobs directly from EPAs. Even if a job doesn't come directly out of the audition it's still "face time" as opposed to one of those pay-to-play “classes.”
Listen what Bernie Telsey, Tara Rubin and Jim Calleri say at 23:29 about EPAs:
THE ROAD was as good as dead 15 years ago. Just as they rubbed the paddles with conductant and shouted, 'clear!" SETA was invented. We have made a lot of progress in getting the road back. Now the SETA contract has to mature and be bolstered from within. It's easy to cast aspersions about Equity's weakness. While I will not say that the union has handled every challenge perfectly, please know that certain producers and presenters are making a concerted effort to not use union talent. It's good, old-fashioned union busting. There is now a very robust, parallel, non-union economy performing in shows that should employ our members. It has become a truism that one shouldn't, "take ones Equity card too early," because the competition is so thick. The employment numbers don't bear this canard out. Competition is tight whether you're a union member or not. Before I was a member, if the heavens had opened up and an Equity card had hit me on the head, I would have thought I had it made. Today, I often hear from younger actors, on having been offered one of our contracts, “maybe I’m not ready for my Equity card.” And I counter, “Not ready? Not ready to be paid decently and work in safe and sanitary conditions?” Not coincidentally, labor unions in all industries are being starved and garroted. How to stanch this hemorrhage? We have been making progress fostering the idea of Equity as a brand. (#Equityworks) Most theatergoers – local or tourists - are aware of the “if it’s not Equity, it’s not Broadway” campaign. Ticket buyers in League and regional theatres must be made just as aware. And while we're at it, let's imprint on ticket buyers that the American theatre is union theatre.
Not So Fun Fact
Typically only about 15% of our 51,000+ members bother voting at all.
Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est Knowledge is power.
A well informed membership is our most powerful tool. The Member Ed Committee is what brought me into Equity service. I'm a member and former vice-chair of this committee for many years. Maybe we met at a New Member Reception. Member Ed holds seminars and does outreach. I have authored and presented quite a few, myself. You might have come to one of my Unemployment seminars or Websites For Actors. The Actors’ Equity Foundation, which has been quite limited in its scope is expanding. My vision is Equity University, if you will: A place for Stage Managers and Actors to learn skills and maintain health of life, mind and body. All of this should and will be a free benefit of Equity membership.
Many Stage Managers and Actors do not live in NY or CHI or LA. It is not necessarily everyone's ultimate career goal to work in a 0.29 square mile area of midtown Manhattan. These non-megametropolists live where they live because it's home. Art and artists are everywhere. The idea behind the LORT movement was to utilize the considerable locally-grown talent in these artistic communities across America. Sadly, it doesn't always work that way.
WatchMike Daisey, the great monologist, performing his very apt, HOW THEATRE FAILED AMERICA. It's funny and sad at once. (Also check out and subscribe to hisYouTube channel. Much gold there)
(This is not to say that Mike is endorsing me. I am, however, endorsing him.)
So much ugliness and name-calling over 99 Seat. While Equity really screwed the pooch on the P.R. let alone the implementation of its reconfiguring of the 99-Seat Plan (and that tone deaf referendum!), the union is not, contrary to what some in their passion proclaim, trying to destroy intimate theatre in L.A. There is a place for development work and it should continue. Indeed, I have done Equity-approved showcases in New York, as many of us have. At the same time, Equity is a labor union, and its constitutional mission is to "assist [members] in obtaining employment and proper compensation therefor." We all want to achieve a balance where L.A. members can showcase their work, but also organize work so that an actor can make a living - even exclusive of film and TV if he or she wants to. These two things can co-exist. The vitriol has to stop. We are brothers and sisters and fellow artists. Let's work together. Theatre that looks like America.
"Equal Employment Opportunity Everyone is for equal employment opportunity. But how do we get there? Quotas? Affirmative action? Awards? The reality is that once the curtain goes up, an audience accepts a cast of characters as occupants of that particular world. So it’s not that a woman couldn't play the the Doge in TWELFTH NIGHT or that Max in THE PRODUCERS couldn't be Asian (I’ve seen examples of both) It’s getting different choices into the audition room. The director chooses from the candidates presented. We must seek inclusion at the gate-keeper level. Casting directors. This is tricky because AEA does not have contracts with them. Time for some out of the box thinking. And diversity makes economic sense. Recent productions on Broadway of August Wilson's plays telling of the African-American experience brought thousands of theatre-goers to Broadway who not only had never been to Broadway, but never seen a live play. That's bucks along with the butts in the seats. EEO in the booth, too - There must be more variety vis-a-vis the higher-paying SM contracts.