Author Topic: Pros and Cons of Equity/unions  (Read 9003 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
    • http://
Pros and Cons of Equity/unions
« on: Apr 28, 2005, 01:35 pm »
(I posted the same post in "The Hardline" forum but I'm trying to get a larger response.)

I'm doing a research project on how Equity/unions affect the theatre world today.  Obviously, when they first were established, they ensured fair treatment of actors, prevented abuse of power, etc.  But I'm wondering (as someone who has no experience whatsoever with them) what people's reactions are to their effectiveness.  This can apply to both actors and techies.  I'm also not limiting responses to those who are currently in a union.  Here are a few questions to get some responses/answers flowing: Is Equity/unions doing what it was originally intended to do?  What are positive aspects of them?  What are negative aspects of them?  Do they help or hinder good and successful theatre?  Are they useful or more of an annoyance?  These are just a few questions.  If you have more opinions other than what I've listed here, by all means speak up!  I'm not trying to ruffle feathers...I'm just trying to gauge general feelings.  Also, if you post a response, can I quote you in my research paper?  I can definitely keep it anonymous (such as, "Equity is the best organization in the world because......" says an Equity SM) but I would like to know if I can quote you.  Thanks!!


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 405
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
  • Experience: Professional
union opinions
« Reply #1 on: Apr 30, 2005, 10:56 pm »
I am still on the fence post, personally, about unions.  I get confused by IATSE, as I find their rules very inconsistent from venue to venue.

To me, it all stems down to the individual in each situation.  I find sometimes its less what the union rules are, but how the locals are utilizing & interpretting them.  Locals who are friendly, and interested in helping your show be successful, will use their rules to your advantage, and I don't have problems working within their guidelines.

I do see IA providing for breaks, working hours, and money.  There are lots of venues out there that are expected to do work all day and night, but not all of them compensate for the hours & stress.  I'll hear the same scenario of being over-booked from venue to venue, but there'll be non-union places where this is all expected to be done on their basic salary.  While the same scenario at a union house is going to provide a nice bit of overtime to the locals.

As for Equity - I worked a half-Equity house once.  Both me and the Equity SM got screwed by the producer, over the same issue.  I lost out because I did not have the protections of the union, but on the other hand, I saw the union rules being used to hurt the SM.  I was a lowly apprentice ASM, so I never knew if it was an acceptable interpretation of union rules that was used against the SM.  It was a very interesting experience early in my career, which has contributed to my not being able to decide for myself to go union or not.  I could see where I -in theory- could have been protected by the union, but the union chose not to help either of us.

I do think that they serve a purpose.  Past that, I don't know enough to add more of a detailed opinion.



  • Guest
I'm curious
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2005, 04:52 pm »
I'd love to hear particulars of this case, and I'm sure the regional SM committee would as well.  Can you tell me more via pm?  Or email me at


  • Tourist
  • *
  • Posts: 1
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Pros and Cons of Equity/unions
« Reply #3 on: Jan 08, 2007, 07:59 am »
I'm always worried about joining equity up here in Canada because I know they can veto any non equity show I want to be a part of- and don't have to give any reasons- this really bothers me- There is so much non-equity work I love- I'm not very willing to give that up. not to mention there are not too many equity houses here in Atlantic Canada- and I would have no choice but to live elsewhere if I became equity. At the same time- there are some equity houses I'd love to work it...we'll see.


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 210
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: AEA
  • Current Gig: PSM, The Human Race Theatre Company
  • Experience: Professional
Re: Pros and Cons of Equity/unions
« Reply #4 on: Jan 10, 2007, 10:30 am »
Well.... personally ALL my union affiliations  are lapsed.

AGMA was the first union I joined as a dancer, and I was so young I had no idea what a union was or what help it could be to me! i just saw a percentage of my check going to AGMA every week.

I SM dance in a non-AGMA company. Therefore, I thought it was silly for me to retain membership in unions which I don't work in anymore (AEA, AFTRA.....)

As far as the company I work in now; I don't believe we'll ever go AGMA, we simply do not have the money. If we had to follow AGMA regulations $$$$-wise we'd have to close down! We do a pretty darn good job of following the rules as far as breaks, not endangering dancers etc...

You can go to the AGMA website and actually read the contract's AGMA has with ALL the Opera, Dance etc. companies in the US. It's really very interesting; percentage-wise very very few professional dance companies are unionized.


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 340
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: SMA
Re: Pros and Cons of Equity/unions
« Reply #5 on: Jan 10, 2007, 09:20 pm »
Ok, here's my two cents...

Unions are complicated. In many ways they do achieve what they were founded to accomplish: to protect and support the rights of their members. Unions are mostly protective organizations. They protect the rights, safety, creativity, and finances of their members. Because of this, a union often is perceived to protect its weakest members most effectively. That stagehand who's been in IATSE for 50 years, but doesn't have good strength left to pull a rope - his rights to continue working in his chosen profession are guaranteed. On the other hand, union regulations balance the diva performers who believe that things like call times don't apply to them. It works both ways - unions protect the original creative work (demanding that actors don't change script lines on a whim), the onstage and backstage talent (in terms of physical safety and fair wages), and the producing organization (by setting clear and mutually agreed guidelines by which any complaint/incident can be measured).

Since generally only larger companies use unions, they cannot prevent the local community theatre tyrant Artistic Director from holding 16-hour long rehearsals. Most people starting out in an industry will have to spend some time "paying dues" by long hours for pitiful pay before they actually Pay Dues to the Union for protection from such practices. On the other hand, because the larger, more influential companies are usually unionized, they do set an effective industry standard. But with this oversight and protection comes bureaucracy, paperwork, accounting, and other pesky things not directly involving the onstage performances.

To join or not to join, in my estimation, depends on your career goals. If you're going to be an SM forever, you might eventually want things like health care and a retirement plan. A union will help you reach those goals, and you won't have to take a part time gig at Starbucks to achieve them. If you're not a career SM and you just love pouring your heart into the local theatre after your 9-to-5, and you can't imagine any oversight organization telling you that you couldn't hold tech sessions till 4am without sending your beloved company belly-up, then a union is not for you. If you don't see yourself SMing for life and want to keep your options open as you gig, maybe a union is not for you. If you're not sure where you'll be in 10 years, but today you want to be the best SM doing the best shows at the best theatres, you might want to join a union no only to enhance your professionalism but also to increase your employability at higher levels. Then again, you might not.

Me: I'm not a union member and never have been. But I am trying to guide my career towards upper management in opera. I see my ultimate place as being in the Board Room and behind an office desk. (Never thought I'd say that!) I have worked closely with many performing arts unions, including IATSE, AGMA, AEA, USA, and AFM. I issue AGMA contracts in my current job, and have actively planned and participated in IATSE and AFM negotiations in past positions. I'm something of a Democratic-Socialist, so I fully support the existence and goals of union organizations just because of personal philosophy. They do put certain demands on business, but they are not bad business. And if any of this ridiculously long post is useful to you, you can certainly quote me - PM me if you'd like more info on the issue or my opinionated self.