Having an Equity card basically means that you are a member of the Actors' Equity Association. Representing both actors and stage managers, the Actors' Equity Association (AEA) has been negotiating wages and benefits for its members since 1913.
According to the AEA, benefits include:
- Minimum salaries (negotiated rates, overtime, extra pay for additional duties, free housing or per diem on tour)
- Work rules (length of day, breaks, days off, safe and sanitary conditions)
- Health, pension and 401(k) benefits
- Dispute resolution (including recourse to impartial and binding arbitration)
- Just cause (penalties for improper dismissal)
- Bonding (guaranteeing payments to the Actors if the producer becomes insolvent or defaults)
- Supplemental Workers' Comp insurance, which provides additional compensation over-and-above Workers' Comp if you're injured on the job
- Equity-only auditions via casting call and Equity hotlines
- Agency regulations
- Member discounts
- The Equity News and website
- Seminars and special events
- Professional name protection
- Tax assistance through VITA
- Voting privileges
"Union membership also includes access to service organizations like The Actors' Fund, Career Transition for Dancers, the Actors' Federal Credit Union and the AFL-CIO. These organizations offer a host of additional resources such as emergency assistance, seminars, career counseling, low-cost financial services, loans, and discounts."
Starting a Career
Every year, thousands of Broadway hopefuls flock to New York City hoping to break into the theater business. Before you rush off, you may want to stop and visit the Equity website to find out if a union is right for them.
If you aren't yet an Equity member, you might still land a role on Broadway. But your chances are slimmer. Many theater employers will only hire card-carrying union members.
How to Get an Equity Card
- Gain employment under Equity Contract (this is often tricky because some shows won't let you audition unless you are already an AEA member).
- Be a member of a "sister union" such as SAG, AFTRA, or AGMA. Members of these unions can also register for AEA.
- Utilize the Equity Membership Candidate Program. If you are an actor or stage manager-in-training, you can register with AEA and earn credit towards eventual membership.