Author Topic: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?  (Read 7731 times)

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Rebbe

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What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« on: Jul 31, 2006, 08:52 am »
“Hey, how do you join Equity, anyway?”

I got this question over the weekend from a May 06’ college graduate.  A theater major from a good sized university with a thriving theater department.  I get asked this pretty often by crew, assistants, even actors, and we certainly see it posted here regularly. 

It got me wondering (not for the first time):  why aren’t undergraduates being taught the basics of how to join a union, and the pros/cons of doing so?  I know I left college with only the vaguest notions of what Equity was and how to join it, but at the time I never dreamed I’d grow up to be an AEA SM, so I wasn’t looking for that info, either.  I’m not suggesting colleges should be cheerleaders for Equity, but it seems like the to-join/not-to-join question is one that many stage managers and actors will face at some point in their careers. 

Are my experiences, as an undergrad myself and later encountering other hapless grads, the exception or the norm?  If any of you went to schools that attempted to explain union membership, how helpful and correct did you find that information?       

I recognize that how to join and should I join are separate questions, and would hope that after getting a theater degree, you’re ready to look at the should.
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

nmno

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #1 on: Jul 31, 2006, 02:23 pm »
I went to college in LA so I felt that our theatre department wasn't as much preparing actors to work on the stage but to work in film and, to a lesser extent, TV. I recall conversations about how to join SAG but not so much about Equity, except for the catch-22: Can't get Equity work unless you are already Equity but you can join AEA unless you've don't Equity work... (not that that doesn't apply to sag or aftra but that's what I remember about equity.)  I never heard of EMC until I went looking on the AEA website.

Perhaps it's not in the best interest of the universities to push membership to BA/BFA students, instead encouraging them (and their money) to come back for an MFA.  A little cynical of me, sorry. 

Perhaps information IS available to students, but as an undergrad,, as you indicated, AEA seems like such a far away goal, that students overlook it or don't seek out the information?

Perhaps Equity isn't doing a good enough job getting it's message out there; but perhaps it really doesn't have to since the competition for jobs is already high?

megf

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #2 on: Jul 31, 2006, 03:29 pm »
My university sees a lot of discussion of AEA membership - many acting students in the undergrad and grad programs seem to view the card as their ticket into the professional world. Unfortunately, there are no courses that really focus on performing arts labor unions and associations. There are some stage manager-types (the school has no SM program...) who make AEA membership their first goal after graduation, but for the most part, those who want to get their cards wait a handful of years before joining EMC or contracting in.

nmno - I'm curious about what school you went to - I'm based in LA, about to finish my degree, and feel similarly about how the acting program is more film- and TV-oriented than strictly theater-oriented. The theater and film departments actually have very little crossover, but the techniques taught in the acting classes seem to me to line up more with what is demanded of film actors than not... for instance, projection is barely mentioned. Ever.

I have mixed feelings about schools promoting unions. I see nmno's point about universities pushing membership - and it does seem that it would be risky for a university program to advocate membership in a union rather than, say, a MFA/MA. It also surprises me when a higher-ed program *doesn't* educate students in the arts about the history of their craft - how can you get a liberal arts degree with a theater concentration, or a degree from a theater conservatory, without learning about Equity? One of my professors made it a point to encourage students in their junior year to write papers on AEA and IATSE, but by and large, the on-campus support for union knowledge is weak.

VSM, any thoughts? I'd be particularly interested in hearing your take on this... and of course, the thoughts of the SMN community as well!!

megf

ReyYaySM

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #3 on: Jul 31, 2006, 04:19 pm »
The theatre program at my college really didn't talk much about the business side of theatre--marketing yourself, resumes, auditions/interviews, union membership, etc--which was unfortunate).  My stage management professor was the only professor I had that discussed the business of theatre, so I was fortunate enough to have a basic understanding of AEA when I graduated as well as ideas on how to market myself, how to find jobs, etc.  However, the acting professors never discussed it with the actors; some of them graduated not even knowing that there was a union for actors (I went to school in Texas, and there are only eight theatres in the San Antonio/Austin area that are AEA, so most theatres that the students are familiar with in the area are non-union).  I do think that the focus of the BFA acting program, though, was to prepare the actors for graduate school as opposed to acting professionally right out of undergrad. 

I really learned about AEA during my stage management internship (earning EMC points) and the year that I spent as a company manager and felt that my experiences there helped me make an informed decision when I signed my first Equity contract and joined the union. 

JenniferEver

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #4 on: Jul 31, 2006, 04:31 pm »
I was in a smaller theatre prgram in a large university. My program barely mentioned equity, wheras I was told by people in the alrger program that equity rules were the first thing they learned in intor drama courses. I learned very little about the business I wish I had learned more. I have been reading the AEA website, but it's hard to understand how all of that applies to the real world

loebtmc

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #5 on: Jul 31, 2006, 06:11 pm »
AEA has been doing some outreach to colleges but it is in the baby stages (VSM, take it away), HOWEVER, there is a committee dealing with this issue - it would be lovely for any of you you to air some of your concerns to me or to VSM and perhaps you can even participate when this committee meets in LA (as a guest until and unless you are an AEA member) to help format some things that will help make everything better and more viable...

VSM

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #6 on: Jul 31, 2006, 07:05 pm »
There is a National Staff Representative onboard at Actors' Equity whose job includes educating the future members of the Union. I will get in touch with her and ask her to write a response to the many inquiries and maybe even an update on her schedule here on the west coast. She has already been to many schools nationwide and I know she is always looking for more interested schools. More to follow...
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MatthewShiner

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #7 on: Aug 01, 2006, 11:49 am »
I think it is a general fault across the board of prepping the BUSINESS and LIFESTYLE part of the world of theatre.  I too, after going to two undergrad programs, did not have a clear idea of how to join equity until I was in grad school. 

But let me play the other side of the coin, not everyone majoring in theatre will want to do it professionally, nor really should they.  Also, joing the union RIGHT out of undergrad may be problematic, so maybe the univeristy is doing a slight service by not pushing AEA membership.  Also, when I taught SM, I gave perhaps a paragraph on joining and then informed them how to contact the membership department letting the most eager students start the basic relationship with the union.

Even if students were educated on the basics of the union and union membership, it would be a difficult class indeed to have one that covered ALL the agrreements and contracts - although could be very interesting.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

nmno

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #8 on: Aug 01, 2006, 01:57 pm »
nmno - I'm curious about what school you went to - I'm based in LA, about to finish my degree, and feel similarly about how the acting program is more film- and TV-oriented than strictly theater-oriented. The theater and film departments actually have very little crossover, but the techniques taught in the acting classes seem to me to line up more with what is demanded of film actors than not... for instance, projection is barely mentioned. Ever.

Hey meg - I went to 'SC.  In all fairness, I should qualify my statement a bit.   I only took lower division acting classes: 2 classes were required for BA's and I took an optional voice class (not singing, but a lot of Alexander, etc) and I felt like the teachers in those classes were teaching for the stage.   But there were a quite a few classes and seminars for tv/film acting (offered by the school of theatre), conversations in some other classes I took seemed to imply that theatre was just a stepping stone to getting film/tv work and students were highly encouraged to submit their headshots to the film school's database.  It's tough; there you are, sharing space with 1 of, if not THE, top film school in the nation - I guess you'd be stupid not to take advantage of the opportunity, maybe work with the next Lucas, Zemeckis or Howard.  Plus, I think being in LA makes it hard; it felt like everyone and their mother was either trying to get into film/tv or their job was to support the film/tv industry (but of course even most of them had a headshot or screenplay at the ready just in case)...  More anti-LA cynicism, sorry!  Regardless, I think this created an atmosphere of “film is where it’s at”.

kjdiehl

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #9 on: Aug 01, 2006, 11:43 pm »
I too went to a school that did nothing to educate it's students about AEA. I found it ridiculous that we spent so much time learning about the many various repertory companies from over the last century and what their focus was and who founded them, but never the real meaty stuff about the origin of Equity: some points which will actually still matter to us today.
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SM_Art

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #10 on: Aug 03, 2006, 01:13 am »
Many colleges don't say anything because those teaching don't know enough.  I am the technical staff at a community college, and once heard one of our own theatre faculty telling students that AEA Stage Managers can hire and fire actors!  Needless to say I stuck in my own two cents to correct that... but how can you police such 'education'?
Yes, AEA is trying to do some college outreach, but it's in the early stages.  We try to have active AEA members come in and speak with our students, because they're more likely to listen to a 'special guest' speaker on such issues.  I constantly try to invite students to come see my shows, when I work outside the college, and occasionally get to hire one as a PA or ASM when it doesn't screw up their school schedule.  It lets them see that I'm still active and know what I'm talking about, and hopefully the education process continues.

Art

loebtmc

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #11 on: Aug 03, 2006, 02:56 am »
Hey folks out there - VSM and I will be at a meeting for the committee exploring this specific issue this coming week - so now is a great time to PM either of us and let us know your concerns and suggestions. We can't guarantee results, but we can make sure your thoughts are aired in a room full of folks discussing this very topic.


kjdiehl

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #12 on: Aug 04, 2006, 09:01 pm »
I wonder what the AEA college outreach materials are like?

It might be useful for AEA to compose a few chapters about the history of Equity and what it does, why, and how, and how's it's useful today. These chapters could be posted on the website, (to save printing costs,) and accessible by schools. Important points to cover: what the business was like before Equity. What specific events led to it's formation, and specifically how that was done, and why- not just bland facts. How the industry changed as a result. What have been some major battles won and lost and why. Try to fairly present both the union's point of view and that of the producers. Also touch on the roles and jurisdictions of the other performing arts unions, and Equity's relationships with them. Also, explain clearly and honestly, (not just typical, overly positive propaganda,) on how one can become a member, and what the benefits and negatives are. Explain what kind of theatrical work members CAN do outside of a union contract. Check common theatre textbooks references to Equity and focus on filling the gaps in knowledge. Then it would be important to make the existence of this information widely known to schools. Email professors and theatre departments. Heck email the entire membership top help spread the word and encourage those who are professors to  utilize it in their classes. Provide a simple and responsive method for feedback, so that the information can be refined and improved.
-Kris Diehl, AEA SM

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standing in the shadows with a clipboard in hand..."

VSM

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #13 on: Aug 22, 2006, 10:58 pm »
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to topic but I left one show and started another and just now heard back from the AEA Representative Amy Dolan. Here is her reply...

Hello All,
As the National Education and Outreach Coordinator, I have been charged
with the tremendous task of getting the word out to students/future members
about AEA.  I use a variety of methods of outreach and am always looking to
incorporate new ideas.  In addition to visiting as many Universities as possible,
I also attend conferences including USITT and several of the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festivals.  I make sure to connect with our liaisons  in order to get them involved  if I am in their city but during other times as well.  I maintain the brochures so that we have information readily available and I encourage everyone to contact me if they will be speaking to students, New Members or EMC's so I can provide them with materials and talking points.  I am limited only by time, getting invitations (although I do contact schools myself) and not enough members knowing that I am available to help and that they could help me with introductions to educators across the country.  I aspire to create a strong National team to help the outreach office in it's mission.

So, about the message.  My power point presentation includes the history of
the union, how it works, member responsibilities and a Q and A section.  My
introduction explains that I am not there to recruit them, quite the contrary, I want them to have all the information they can so that when they do get the opportunity to join they can make an educated decision.  I explain that it is a difficult, personal and lasting decision that should not be made lightly. I explore with them all the ways they can inform their decision, whether it be the EMC program, conversations with members, research etc.

I am thrilled that educators and members see the importance of student outreach and we are making a difference.  Thank you so much for your input
and give a call anytime.

All the Best,
Amy Dolan Fletcher

National Education and Outreach Coordinator
Actors' Equity Association
165 W. 46th Street
16th Floor
New York, NY 10036
(212) 869-8530 ext. 42
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ljh007

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Re: What Colleges (Don't) Say About AEA?
« Reply #14 on: Aug 23, 2006, 07:46 am »
I recently sat on an academic standards panel with a group of community arts professionals (dance, theatre, opera, orchestra) joining with the Ohio Department of Education to set new education guidelines. We basically redefined the checklist of what the teachers are required to teach high school students. And eveyone on the panel was adamant that professional employment options be included in the criteria. It was interesting to see the leaders of the local symphony, ballet, and theatres malenting that they floundered for years before figuring out what their industry union was and how to join it. We now have a mandatory educational criteria of "exploring local and national unions and asociations and how they contribute to professional development and community building." It's essential knowledge - and now it's required in Ohio! Hooray!

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