Actor’s Equity is expanding its membership; Open access makes the program sustainable

Actors’ Equity said today that it is making permanent its open access membership policy, allowing any non-union theater worker to join who can demonstrate that they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographic jurisdiction. The 51,000-member union launched the open access policy in July 2021, but it had a sunset date of May 1, 2023.

The union will now begin a three-year phase of its Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) program, under which eligibility for union membership was limited to those working for an equity employer or to members of sister unions such as SAG-AFTRA, the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) or American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).

“Open access is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Kate Schindle, president of Actors’ Equity. “Of course, strength in numbers is a cornerstone principle for any union. But it was never a simple numbers game. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union. Open Access is about providing a pathway to equity membership that doesn’t depend on our employers or our industry’s hiring practices. In the 18 months since we launched, we’ve seen a significant increase in the diversity of our new members. Joining a union is a deeply personal decision, and I’m proud that Open Access puts that decision in the hands of actors and stage managers.”

The open access program has already seen a significant increase in the number of new members of color. In 2020, 26% of Equity members who shared demographic information with the union self-identified as people of color. Since the launch of Open Access, approximately 38% of members joining through this initiative self-identified as people of color.

Established in 1978, the EMC program offers membership candidates time to work with Equity members in the Equity theater while earning credit toward eventual membership in Equity. The program was last updated in 2017 to ease union membership requirements.

Under the new policy, Equity will no longer admit new EMCs to the program beginning May 8. Current EMCs will retain audition access for three years. All fees paid in the EMC program can be applied to union initiation fees. From May 8, 2026, EMCs will no longer be recognized for preferential audition access and will be viewed on the same basis as other non-equity actors.

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