Happy (Equity) Anniversary to Me!

According to the email I received this morning, today is my union anniversary.

Actors' Equity Association 1913 LogoToday, Aug 3, 2020, is your Equity anniversary! You applied to join the union on 8/3/2001, and we’re so glad that you’re with us today.

My first contract began July 10, 2001, so I usually consider that as the date. Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) seems to have just started doing these email notices in the last year, as this is the first I’d gotten. I’d heard others say they had, and had been vaguely looking for one since July.

Regardless of how you count it, I’m at 19 years and counting with AEA now. I’ve gone back and forth with my involvement over the years, particularly when I was working full-time in the opera world for roughly a decade. [Opera falls under the AGMA union, not the AEA theatre jurisdiction. I am an AGMA member too.] I did manage to work four AEA productions during that time, but it was hard to fit in alongside the other job. Five years ago this October, I took the leap back to freelancing, and back to where my heart had been – wanting to work on productions from pre-production to final performance. (I’d been in educational opera as well as website/social media managing, with only a few new productions in the mix at that company.) I’m proud to say that since taking that leap, I worked enough Equity productions to earn my health insurance every year…………….until this pandemic. That’s even with me being a multi-genre stage manager. In that same five years, I’ve also worked on opera, ballet, cirque and concert productions.

I also took a new leap this year and am running as a Western Stage Manager convention delegate candidate in the upcoming AEA election. I’ve been a member of several committees for a while now: Stage Managers, League of Resident Theatres (LORT), and Western Developing Theatre. The last one is where I’ve felt the most connected to my union and how it works. The DevT committees are the ones that look at all the Letter of Agreement (LOA) contracts and Small Professional Theatre (SPT) contracts. Many don’t realize the SPT contracts are promulgated – the union comes up with the rules, and then presents those to a company, with variations based on their size/budget. The producing company isn’t part of creating/negotiating the rules, until it comes to their own individual request for concessions. The bigger union theatre contracts – LORT and Production, etc. – have people sitting on each side of table, fighting for any changes. SPTs, however, don’t involve the producers right off the bat when creating the rules, so any changes the producers may want are brought first to the Equity Business Reps, who then bring them to the DevT committee. And everything is really based on money and negotiations. It’s been fascinating to watch whether we fight for another chorus contract versus another (assistant) stage manager contract. Some theatres have “standard” audience interaction times, so how much do we have that count as work, especially in regards to making concessions with the breaks involved? If an actor is given food WHILE talking to the audience, does that count as a meal break? (Not really….) Nothing is cut and dry, and being part of the negotiations is eye-opening for first-timers. As you get more familiar, you really start to take into account what our own members have said about working at the companies. A weird concession suddenly sounds completely understandable…or alternately, a requested concession from the producers sounds completely insane.

Why am I running for Western Stage Manager convention delegate? I think I’m a good listener. I’m NOT a New Yorker, and I work so much around the country, that I don’t necessarily feel I’m the right representative to run for the Denver liaison area delegate either. However, I do spend QUITE a bit of time talking to stage managers, not only in the Western region but around the country. Pre-pandemic I hosted Stage Managers’ Association-sponsored gatherings whenever I traveled, as often as I could. During the pandemic, I’ve highly energized the national SMA webinars and virtual “SM GOs” (Stage Managers Go Out…er, Online, now!). I hope I’ve helped foster our community during this trying time, and really want to find out what OTHERS want for the future in our industry, not just my own agenda. When I was asking other Western Region members for signatures towards my nomination, one of my fellow stage managers responded, “You’re already doing so much in terms of outreach and communications for not only stage managers, but AEA folks. I know the commitment is a lot, but I can’t think of anyone more qualified to speak on behalf of AEA members AND to translate what comes out of AEA.” Meanwhile, today I also had Zoom training to be an Entry to Equity presenter, so will likely be helping explain the union to potential members in the near future. I’d like to make it accessible both ways for members and the union to communicate hopes and needs.

Anyway, I’m listening and learning, and plan to continue to do so.

Nineteen years and counting…