Actors' Equity Association, or AEA, is a labor union founded in 1913 to protect the rights of stage actors and stage managers in the United States. Actors' Equity Association makes negotiations for its members regarding wages, health-care options, fair work hours and safe working conditions. Most professional theater in New York City, as well as many national touring companies and professional theater around the United States, use actors that are a part of Actors' Equity Association. There are several contracts Actors' Equity Association members can work under, including benefit contracts and contracts for large and small productions. Follow the steps below to become a member of the Actors' Equity Association.
Get signed onto the Actors' Equity Association by a producer. You must audition for a show that hires only Equity actors in order for a producer to sign you into Actor's Equity. In fact, you will be forced to join in order to be employed with the production. Once you have become a member of the Actors' Equity Association, you must pay dues for your membership and will not be able to act or stage manage in any non-Equity productions while you are a member, unless you are working under what is called an "Equity Showcase Code." Visit ActorsEquity.org for more information.
Join one of the other "4As." The 4As are the American Guild of Variety Artists, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and, of course, the Actors' Equity Association. These agencies are considered "sister agencies" and often work together. Entry into one union does not guarantee entry into one of the other unions, but you may have an easier time convincing the Actors' Equity Association that you belong there if you have prior experience with one of the sister unions.
Participate in the Equity Membership Candidate Program. If you are an actor or stage manager "in training," as the Actors' Equity Association website states, you can participate in a program that will eventually grant you an Equity card. Equity candidates have to complete 50 non-consecutive weeks of work at a participating Actors' Equity Association theaters. These theaters are usually Off-Broadway houses or regional theaters located across the United States. In order to join the Equity Membership Candidate Program, you must pay a fee and register on the Actors' Equity Association website, listed in the Resources section.
Start auditioning if you haven't begun already. The only way to getting your Equity card is to gain experience. Performing in as many plays and musicals as possible, whether they are professional or semi-professional, is a great start on the path to joining the Actors' Equity Association. Just remember, after you join Actors' Equity, you will no longer be eligible to participate in non-Equity shows, so be sure to think about what you want for your career before you jump into Equity candidacy.
Be patient and don't get discouraged if you don't join Actors' Equity right away—you will have plenty of time to join.