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What Is An Equity Card and Do You Need It?

As you enter the professional performance world and begin to seek out auditions, you’ll likely hear these words.


“Is it Equity?”


The answer to this question can tell you a lot about a show, and what it’s like to be a part of the production. So keep your ears peeled, here’s why:


Actor’s Equity Association, casually referred to as “AEA” or “Equity,” is a labor union representing theatre performers and stage managers. Other performing arts labor unions include SAG-AFTRA—representing performers in film and television, and AGVA—representing live theatre productions of the variety act kind.


Why do performers need a labor union?


Being a part of a performing arts labor union means that artists are protected in their workplace. This protection covers a number of unfair or unhealthy working conditions, both onstage and in their work environment. The most prominent perk to being an AEA member is the guarantee of a healthy living wage. AEA bargains for this wage and a number of benefits on your behalf, which is then presented to the performer in the form of a contract. This contract is a written guarantee of work and pay. Actor’s Equity also investigates the show’s stage and rehearsal space to meet high safety standards. In addition to fighting for fare wages and safe working conditions, Equity offers a number of other benefits like pension, health insurance, tax assistance, and even career transition help.


In return for all these great services, the union members pay “dues.” Dues are paid semi-annually, regardless of whether you are working or not.


How do I join the union?


You can join the union in three ways.

One way to gain membership is to earn “points,” (Equity Membership Candidacy Points) by working at Equity theaters around the country, typically regional theaters. Once a position at an approved theatre is secured, you submit for candidacy and begin working to meet your minimum 50 weeks of work with the theatre(s).
You can gain AEA membership by being a member of one of its sister unions for a year or more. To learn more about Equity’s sister unions and their requirements for candidacy visit Equity’s “How to Join” page.


You could also gain your Equity card by booking an AEA contract. For example, a broadway show, or a stage show at Walt Disney World. Auditions for Actors Equity contracts are accessible to members on their website, or can be found on sites like Answers4Dancers.


So you want to book a Broadway show and join the Union?


Great! This is an incredible goal. But know this first—Equity auditions are only open to Equity members. It is a catch 22. When Broadway shows audition, they typically only see union members. However, If audition attendance is low and the casting team feels they have time, they open up the audition to non-union members. These are the boys and girls that showed up to a 10am call before sunrise, just so their name is the first on the standby list. As a non-union member you are not guaranteed to be seen. It is a wait-and-see game.


Because of the gambling nature of this audition process, many candidates choose to earn their membership first by working at regional theaters and earning their EMC points. Still, Walt Disney World dancer auditions are one of the rare Equity calls that gives everyone a chance to dance, non-members and members alike. Check out their audition calendar for upcoming Dancer auditions.


The case for your card, or not:


Being part of AEA certainly has its perks. And it makes you eligible for auditions and calls you wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.


Still, there are downsides. Having your Equity card means you can only work on Equity shows. AEA membership opens up doors, but it also closes others. There are many non-equity tours and theaters where Equity members cannot perform. For example, Cirque Du Soleil is a non-Equity company.


Before you go audition hopping, do your research on your dream shows and learn whether an Equity card is the right career step for you.




Kelsey is a classically trained dancer and Actor’s Equity performer. She has performed for companies such as Central Florida Ballet, Tokyo Disney, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and at sea with leading luxury cruise lines. A dancer by day and a writer by night, when Kelsey is not performing she shares her love of dance, travel, and finding a good cup of coffee on her blog Wend Away Travels. Find her full performance bio and show gallery at www.kelseyannglennon.com.

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