Any professional actor or stage manager is eligible to join the Actors’ Equity Association in the near future.
The union announced on Wednesday that it is making permanent its Open Access policy, first introduced in July 2021. The policy opens union membership to any actor or stage manager who can provide proof of employment and payment through methods such as a Playbill. and a pay stub, or a website link and a tax document. The policy expired in May 2023.
Prior to the policy, members had to either be hired for an Equity production, which would make them join a union, be a member of a sibling union, or participate in the Equity Membership Candidate Program, in which actors and stage managers could earn points for full membership by working on eligible productions.
The union has positioned this as part of a diversity and inclusion effort, noting that about 38 percent of members who have joined through Open Access to date have self-identified as persons of color. But it has also seen an influx of new members — and dues — as the union recovers from the pandemic and the year-and-a-half of all Broadway theaters shutting down. Open Access members pay the same rate as other members, which amounts to $176 in dues per year, as well as 2.5 percent of gross earnings under an Equity contract in work dues (excluding weekly wage deductions).
Between July 2021 and October 2022, 2,857 members joined or rejoined Equity, with 1,821 of those members, or 64 percent, coming from the Open Access program, the union said. An Equity spokesperson notes that there was a rush of new members when the program first opened, and outside of the first three months, an average of about 54 percent of members came from the Open Access programs.
“Open Access does exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association. “Of course, strength in numbers is a cornerstone of any union. But this was never a simple numbers game. Any worker who wants a union deserves a union. Open Access is about providing a path to Equity membership that is independent of our employers or our industry’s hiring practices. In the 18 months since our launch, we’ve seen a significant increase in the diversity of our new members. Joining a union is a very personal decision, and I’m proud that Open Access has put that decision in the hands of actors and stage managers themselves.”
As part of making this change permanent, Actors’ Equity will discontinue the Equity Membership Candidate Program. From May 8, 2023, the union will stop admitting new members to the program. Current candidates will have access to Equity auditions for another three years, until May 8, 2026, after which access to auditions will end.