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 represents over 45,000 theatre artists and stage managers.
Actors' Equity joined the American Federation of Labor in 1919, and called a strike seeking recognition of the association as a labor union. 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 Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC)).
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).
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.
The union claimed the higher dues structure was necessary because (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 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.
In 2008, Actors' Inequity, a spoof of the Actors' Equity website, was launched. The site offers an "Inequity Card" for performers to carry. In addition, Actors' Inequity offers free resources to non-union and non-paid actors—and to non-Equity theaters. Actors' Inequity was originally criticized for supporting "unpaid actors" until it defined them (in its "About Inequity" section) as developing actors and community players (those who volunteer their time to community theaters). Realizing that all actors must start somewhere, the theatre community has now embraced the organization. In February, 2008, they touted more than 200 members.
The Eisenberg Factor: As Actors' Equity Approaches the 100-Year Mark, Its Longtime Executive Director Assesses the Union's Effectiveness, Then and Now
Mar 01, 2004; On June 27, a little more than 20 days after the Tony Awards ceremony marks the official close of the 2003-04 Broadway season,...