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Fine Print: Equity's Programs for New Performers

What is Equity's outreach program?

Under the guidance of Tom Miller, director of outreach and career development, Actors' Equity Association provides workshops and seminars at many universities and some high schools to educate students on the realities of a life in the professional theatre. The events include one-on-one discussions about photos, agents, the optimum time to join a union, and other business questions the students may have. Miller will often invite representatives of the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to join him. Through this program, Equity's education and outreach department "seeks to advance, promote, and foster respect for theatrical and labor issues," according to the union's website. Equity also offers printed material and provides educators with counseling so they can better prepare their students for the business. Schools interested in scheduling a seminar should call (212) 869-8530, ext. 424. 

What is the Equity Membership Candidate Program?

During a contract negotiation with the League of Resident Theatres in the late 1970s, Equity established an important precedent whereby non-Equity actors and stage managers can receive credit toward joining Equity for every week they work at a participating theatre. After 50 weeks of work (which needn't be consecutive), you are eligible to join the union. This is the Equity Membership Candidate Program, and it currently has approximately 10,000 enrollees. To participate, you must secure a qualifying position at an Equity theatre that offers the program, fill out a registration form supplied by the theatre, and pay Equity a $100 nonrefundable fee (which will be credited toward your Equity initiation fee, currently $1,100, when you join the union). As a perk, Equity liaisons around the country annually set up events at which EMC candidates can share their work experiences and hear advice from local professional actors. After accruing 50 workweeks, you have five years to join Equity, during which time you cannot work nonunion at an Equity theatre. If the five-year period expires, you lose your accumulated weeks and forfeit your $100 fee.

Must I participate in EMC before joining Equity?

No. If a producer offers you an Equity contract, you may join immediately. However, if you are offered an EMC position and you are already a member of SAG, AFTRA, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the American Guild of Variety Artists, or the Guild of Italian American Actors, you have the option of either joining Equity or completing a reduced 25 weeks of work in the EMC program. Again, there is paperwork and a fee, and a professional résumé must be included with your application.

Do all Equity theatres and contracts provide EMC credit?

No. To find out if an employer participates in the program, you must check with the theatre and also with Equity (either call the nearest Equity office or go to www.actorsequity.org and click on "EMCs" in the Membership menu for a list of participating theatres). To find out whether a contract offers creditable workweeks, go to Equity's website and look up the contract in the Document Library. For instance, only Equity members can perform in or stage-manage a show under the Production Contract; there is no EMC credit available. 

Who keeps track of the workweeks I've accumulated?

Reports are submitted to Equity by the theatre, and the union tracks your weeks. But you should keep tabs on your employer and make sure your weekly performance schedule is being submitted. Performers must always keep personal records of their work. This applies to hours on a set or in a recording session and weeks at an EMC theatre. If there is a difference of opinion between you and the theatre, you must have written proof to substantiate your claim. Once you're enrolled in the EMC program, you must also keep your contact information current with Equity's membership department. 
What is the Roger Sturtevant Award?

Established in 2005, the Roger Sturtevant Award is a $1,000 prize given to EMCs for exceptional talent in musical theatre. It was named for the late casting director known for helping talented newcomers. Two winners, one male and one female, are chosen every year. Applications must be submitted to Equity between Jan. 1 and March 15 and must include an audition videotape or DVD of a song or songs and two letters of recommendation. See www.actorsequity.org for further details.

What educational opportunities does Equity provide its members?

Many Equity branches offer panel discussions -- with franchised agents, for instance. Some run workshops with professional teachers so that members can brush up their audition skills. Arguably Equity's best educational effort is its website, www.actorsequity.org, where one can search Equity casting calls and read union bulletins.

--Armin Shimerman

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