Actors’ Equity Association is expanding eligibility for membership to include any actor or stage manager who can demonstrate they have worked professionally in the United States, a move that could significantly broaden access to the organization.
Under the new “Open Access” policy, effective immediately, union membership will no longer be limited to those working for an Equity employer or to members of a sibling union.
Open Access is considered by the union to be one of the “pillars” of its diversity and inclusion efforts, part of what Equity says is a re-examination of “its own systems, structures and processes from the ground up to move Equity toward becoming an antiracist organization.”
Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement, “The old system had a significant flaw: It made employers the gatekeepers of Equity membership, with almost no other pathways to joining. The entertainment industry is disproportionately white, including and especially theatrical leadership. The union has inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of BIPOC artists and others with marginalized identities by maintaining a system in which being hired to work those contracts was a prerequisite of membership.
“We hope,” she continued, “that artists from all backgrounds will join us in building a union that uplifts the entire theatre community, especially those who have not felt included or welcome in the past.”
The new policy comes at a critical time for the theater industry, as theaters begin the process of reopening following both the Covid pandemic shutdown and the intense scrutiny of the industry’s barriers to inclusion and diversity that came in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter nationwide protests.
Also as part of the new policy, the union, which currently represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theater, is inviting former Equity members to rejoin the union without having to secure a new Equity contract, as required under previous policy. Former members and former applicants for membership who choose to join Equity under this policy may also apply previously paid initiation fees toward their current application.