What Actors’ Equity Open Access Means To Me, a Rant/Rave/Retrospective
The young performer in me leapt for joy. Then the jaded and sleep deprived mother in me slapped her back down. Get real, she said.
In a nutshell, COVID shut down the entire industry. No one made any money. No one could pay their dues. I haven’t worked in years and I’m not union so COVID couldn’t hurt me that way. But many of my friends lost work, lost income, and health insurance.
Here’s the sitch.
The Actors’ Equity Open Access plan seemed to come out of nowhere. It all sounded like a money grab. No work means no dues means the union was cash strapped. Reading through various POV’s and hearing from some of the people involved in this decision, it looks less like a money grab and more like a genuine move to bring those who have been systemically barred from joining, including BIPOC actors and actors with disabilities. Folx who haven’t been able to get enough points to join the union because the work wasn’t made available to us. Theaters weren’t hiring people who looked like me on a regular consistent basis. Ask yourselves how often you saw an actor onstage in a wheelchair. I’ll wait.
I’ve been the diversity hire more times than I can count and there is one instance where I should have received my card but the producers wouldn’t give it to me (money being the excuse) and opted to make me EMC instead. I took it because it was at least a start. It gave me some legitimacy.
I’ve been EMC for 12 years. To be fair, for 6 of those years, I haven’t been active. So when it finally hit me that I could be Equity within 24 hours, it was like a whole new world of opportunity opened up in my mind. Finally, it is my choice, not my employer’s, to join the union or not. And shouldn’t it be that way? I don’t know of any other union who makes it near impossible to join (or work but that’s a whole new gripe and one that I don’t have any experience in, so I’ll save that for after I get my card).
Enter The Bullshit
Then I started seeing posts on Facebook, people I went to school with, people I worked with bitching and moaning how being Equity will mean nothing if they let everyone in. That Actors’ Equity Open Access would basically make them non-Equity again.
Excuse me. Since when was Equity an elitist organization? The way you hear these “professionals” talk about it, you’d think they were hand chosen and the rest of us weren’t worthy to join, despite having professional experience. It’s like being in the union was never about the protections, fair wages and benefits. It was just a status symbol. It was just for the chosen few.
I remember union picketers outside the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, telling the audience outside not to support our tour because it wasn’t union. So they shit on non-union actors just trying to work, and then when the doors finally open, they mouth off like we don’t deserve to be there. GTFO
To that point, there is nothing wrong with being non-Equity. There is everything wrong with gatekeeping access to better wages, protections and benefits – what every union exists to do, or is supposed to. There is everything wrong with talking down to other actors, telling them they are not considered professionals until they obtain their card. That behavior is the antithesis of professionalism.
There is a lot of anxiety surrounding this decision, for sure, mainly how theaters will begin to navigate this change in ranks among their hiring pool. But I do believe it’s a move towards inclusion. Anything that moves the needle in that direction gets my support. How it will play out over the next few years, we will see. The Open Access period lasts until May 2023, so I have until then to decide. The initiation fee is outrageous (always has been, no surprise there and nothing I wasn’t expecting) and hopefully I will be able to scrape it together should I choose to join.
That’s what’s so beautiful about it. That’s why I jumped for joy! It’s my choice.
The next question is, should I.
Today? Probably not. Absolutely not.
- I don’t have the funds to spare.
- I don’t have the time to spare. I cannot dedicate the time that being a union actor would require of me. Some parents can, I cannot. I don’t want to spend that much time away from my kids. Also the reason I did not submit for the upcoming non-Equity South Pacific tour as “Bloody Mary.” As much as I wanted to venture into my new type, I realized that show will always be there and I have years left to belt out “Bali Ha’i.”
- I am way out of practice. I need a voice lesson. I need to warm up my acting muscle. I need to niche down my type.
- My business would be starting from scratch. It’s been over 7 years since I’ve done a show. I have no current headshots. I have no book. I have no wardrobe. I don’t even think I have a pair of heels. I think I threw them out after I had the kids. Also, fuck these knees.
And what if I don’t join before the Actors’ Equity Open Access deadline?
Not worried. I am EMC. I am SAG-AFTRA “Must Join.” I can get into both unions easily. Not cheaply or quickly, but easily.
Union members who are panicking because they think a whole slew of actors are going to join up ASAP need to put that paranoia aside. Not all of us are jumping in to crowd your precious hallways tomorrow. The ones who will are the ones who have been ready for some time but for reasons out of their control, were not able to get the points. As for the rest of us? We will join when we are ready.
For more POV’s, please read: