Tuesday, 25 September 2007

All Men Are Created Equal...

But some have a far easier time getting into Equity. My programme had its registration and induction today, and among the many benefits we have of going to our college is that we are qualified by default for membership into Actor's Equity UK. Now, most of the people at my school are actors, and the choice is a no-brainer: sign up now and transfer your membership as opposed to having to get in the hard way through years of auditions and climbing the regional ranks with years and years of auditions ahead. For me, though, there's actually some serious debate.

First, I'm not an actor. In fact, I'm one of the worst performers anybody could ever see on a stage. The reason I'm here right now is because I found a theatre master's that DOES NOT require a performance practicum.

Second, I have a number of issues with Equity as an organization, or more specifically, with AEA (Actor's Equity Association, or the US version of the union). I don't like the fact that AEA places budgetary restrictions and salary caps on showcase and workshop productions (if your budget is under $26K and you want to use union actors, you're not allowed to pay them more than transportation). I hate the fact that AEA push the pink contract (infinite ensemble hire) so hard. I also loathe AEA taking it upon themselves to play the moral high ground in the copyright wars, when it's really the producers' and author/composers' jobs to protect their work - not the salaried and residual free actors and their union.

Third, I'm an American. I don't get the benefit of transferring to a full membership when I graduate unless I've got work clearances and all kinds of other paperwork that my exact profession may very well not cover.

On the other hand, there are some useful benefits to joining. Due to the size of my student loans, I'm not actually qualified for the NHS's low income plan, and being able to exploit Equity's facilities is a valuable thing if I need to see a doctor or deal with anything else not covered (or fully subsidized) by the NHS.

Second, there are shows that won't offer discounts to students, but will grudgingly give them up for Equity members. Sure it's only a couple pounds here and there, but it adds up when you're seeing 50-100+ productions over the course of a year.

Third, I could choose the name I've always wanted and put it down for professional use without having to deal with the legal hassles that come with a proper name change. No, it's not the most grown up desire, but how many people really get to take that opportunity?

In the end, I did what most people do. I talked it over with friends who are inside and outside of the industry, weighed the options, and decided that yes, barring any contradictory information that I hear in the next day or three, it is very much in my interest to pay the fees (a surprisingly cheap £15) and become a member of UK Equity. I don't have to agree with everything the union does, but I also feel that I will accomplish more from inside the system than I could otherwise, and after enough years possibly work towards fixing the issues I have. In the meantime, it's a promise of discounted day seats and health insurance (something I haven't had in three years).

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