In a Feb. 8 email to members, Actors’ Equity Association declared that the union’s open membership initiative, Open Access, will go from a temporary program to permanent policy.
When it began in July of 2021, Open Access allowed any actors and stage managers who are paid for work in those roles within Equity’s jurisdiction to be considered eligible for union membership. The rule was set to expire on May 1, 2023 but will instead continue indefinitely.
Prior to the initiative, there were three ways to achieve Equity membership: 1) by receiving an Equity contract; 2) being the member of a fellow union (SAG-AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA); or 3) through the Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) program, in which non-Equity actors earned one point per week worked at a qualifying Equity theater in order to earn the necessary 25 EMC points.
Equity will “phase out” the EMC program over the next three years. Effective May 8, the union will not accept new EMC applicants. Current membership candidates will retain EMC status between now and May — which means these members will still receive priority access to Equity auditions. However, these EMC members will not accrue additional points towards Equity status as anyone can join the union through Open Access.
One of the catalysts for Open Access was an organization-wide concern about the diversity of its members. At the time of the program’s launch, Equity President Kate Shindle, who maintains that post today, said, “If we actually want our membership to look like our nation, let alone the globe, making real changes and creating new pathways to membership seems like the right way to do it.”
According to Equity’s email, “In 2020, 26 percent of Equity members who shared their demographic data with the union had identified as people of color. Since the launch of Open Access, roughly 38 percent of members joining through the initiative who self-identified were people of color. Open Access is working.”