The Business of Show Biz: AEA Blacklist Fears
Monday, September 24, 2012
By Velina Brown
Q: I joined EMC (Equity Membership Candidacy) eight years ago through my MFA program. The program graduated everyone with an Equity card, but I begged my MFA program not to have to join the union yet, as I knew I would be returning to this (Bay Area) market, and I wasn't ready to join. I wanted to avoid joining too early and then having no options, as many of my actor friends felt they had done. I amassed my points and then had the five-year period in which to join the union until my points expire. During that five-year time, if I were to work at an Equity house, I had to be hired under an Equity contract. My five years are over next month, and I have not once been offered an Equity contract in those five years, which leads me to believe that this is not the market or maybe not the time for me to go Equity. So I was going to let my points expire and revisit the possibility of joining through another avenue in a few years, once my children had graduated from high school and I was free to pursue theatre work anyplace I could find it in the country.
|Actor and career consultant, Velina Brown.
However, I have recently been told by several actor friends that if I let my EMC points expire, I will be forever blacklisted from joining Equity for the rest of my life, which would also preclude me from ever joining AFTRA/SAG and from working in any Equity houses, ever. This blacklisting policy is not written anywhere I can find, nor was I ever told this upon joining EMC. A director friend of mine called EMC membership to find out if this policy is true, and she was told that no information is given out and that Equity would only speak with the person involved.
I am afraid that once Equity has me on the phone with my information in front of them that I may be forced to make a life altering choice that affects me forever in that split second, which seems a bit daunting right now. I'm hoping you can advise me. What do I do?
A: First, I just want to say how sad it is that the performing unions are often so terrifying for actors to deal with. It's a problem I would love to be involved with solving. Secondly, I have been in Actors' Equity Association for over 20 years and was on the Bay Area Advisory Committee (BAAC) for five years, and I've never heard of this "blacklisting policy."
However, I did not join Equity via the EMC program, and policies can change. So I went to the AEA website. As you say, there is nothing that states that if one's EMC weeks expire one is forever barred from becoming a union member. But this rumor is apparently somewhat widespread, since you said that not just one but several actors were warning of blacklisting.
So I checked in with a representative of Actors' Equity Association about your concerns. She explained, "If a person has less than 50 points, the points don't expire. If a person has more than 50 points, they have five years to join; if they don't join within that time, the avenues to membership are either employment on [an Equity] contract or affiliation with another 4A's union. After they complete the program (but before they join) they cannot work at an Equity theatre without a contract, but they can work at a non-AEA theatre without a contract." In other words, if you let your weeks expire you will not be able to start over again in the EMC program.
But you can still join if you are cast in an Equity show. And it would have no effect on your ability to join other unions. In fact, you could join via "sister union reciprocity." For example, if you join AFTRA/SAG or AGMA or AGVA and then are offered a role at an Equity theatre, due to the above-mentioned reciprocity the theatre will be required to offer you an Equity contract. You will not have to join, but they will have to offer it. AFTRA is my parent union. This is how I joined AEA.
I'm so sorry you received such incorrect and frightening information. I am happy to tell you that you will not be strong-armed into making a choice you are not ready to make. You will not be blacklisted for calling and asking a question or for letting your points expire. The EMC program is not the only way to become an Equity actor. Take your time. Do what feels right to you. You have options.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.