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Actors' Equity Association: Wikis


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Actors' Equity
Founded 1913
Members over 45,000 stage actors and stage managers
Country United States
Affiliation AFL-CIO
Key people Paige Price, Acting President
Office location New York, New York

The Actors' Equity Association (AEA), commonly referred to as Actors' Equity or simply Equity, is an American labor union embracing the world of live theatrical performance, as opposed to film and television performance. However, performers appearing on live stage productions without a book or through-storyline (vaudeville, cabarets, circuses) may be represented by AGVA. As of 2007, Equity represented over 45,000 theatre artists and stage managers.



At a meeting held at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City, on May 26, 1913, Actor's Equity was founded by 112 professional theater actors, who established the association's constitution and elected Francis Wilson as president.[1] Leading up to the establishment of the association, a handful of influential actors—known as The Players—held secret organizational meetings at Edwin Booth's old mansion on Gramercy Square.

Marie Dressler, Ethel Barrymore & others during the 1919 strike.

Actors' Equity joined the American Federation of Labor in 1919, and called a strike seeking recognition of the association as a labor union.[1] The strike ended the dominance of the Theatrical Syndicate, including theater owners and producers like Abe Erlanger and his partner, Mark Klaw. The strike increased membership from under 3,000 to approximately 14,000. The Chorus Equity Association, which merged with Actors' Equity in 1955, was founded during the strike.

Equity represented directors and choreographers until 1959, when they broke away and formed their own union (see: Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC)).


In the 1940s, Actors' Equity stood against segregation.[1] When actors were losing jobs due to 1950s McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist, Actors' Equity Association refused to participate. Although its constitution guaranteed its members the right to refuse to work alongside Communists, or a member of a Communist front organization, Actors' Equity never banned any members. At a 1997 ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the blacklist, Richard Masur, then President of the Screen Actors Guild, apologized for the union's participation in the ban, noting: "Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative lives in the theater. For that, we honor Actors Equity tonight."[2]

In the 1960s, Actors' Equity played a role in gaining public funding for the arts, including the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).[1]

Actors' Equity fought the destruction of historic Broadway theaters. It played a major role in the recognition of the impact the AIDS epidemic was having on the stage. Actors' Equity is the only union in the United States that boasts an unemployment rate of 90% at any given time.[1]

Alien performer issue

From 1976-1981, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) brought suit against Actors Equity, charging the union practiced discrimination toward alien visitor performers. While American and Canadian members were charged their dues on a sliding scale, from $42 to a maximum of $400 annually, aliens were charged 5% of their gross wages as dues.[3] NLRB won the judgment. Lynn Redgrave and Yul Brynner participated in the suit, successfully seeking the return of $45,000 he had been required to pay during the first year's run of his hugely successful Broadway musical The King and I.

The union claimed the higher dues structure was necessary (1) to limit the number of alien actors in the United States, (2) to prevent reprisals from British Equity, Britain's "friendly adversary" correlative of Actors' Equity, and (3) to counterbalance British Equity's power to exclude as many American actors as it wants by telling the British Labor Board whom it wants excluded. Finding no merit in Equity's claim that the suit was time-barred, one of their defenses, the Administrative Law Judge ordered Equity to desist from imposing a discriminatory dues schedule and ordered repayment of all amounts collected after April 6, 1976 (six months before the complaint was filed in this case) in excess of what non-resident aliens would have paid if treated like residents or citizens. Evidence was presented showing that no other American performer union acted in this manner. The suit was brought to a close in 1981.

Exchange of actors between U.S. and U.K.

Under current rules, a producer who wants to bring a British actor to the United States must seek the approval of Actors' Equity, just as British Equity's approval is needed to bring an American actor to the United Kingdom. In theory the two unions try to balance the exchange, but over the years it has been charged the exchange provisions have been unevenly applied. Many feel the restrictions should be loosened or ended, while others claim the flow of talent across the Atlantic is mostly one way, from East to West. While established stars are normally admitted automatically under common visa exceptions, the problem arises with non-star talent.[4]

See also


External links

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