Saturday, September 10, 2011

5. Commensurate Reciprocity

I put 120% of myself into any show I’m working on. I can’t help it. It’s just written into my DNA. It’s like an Excel macro that runs in my brain that forces me to care so much that I would do anything in my power (within reason… but sometimes not) to make THIS show the best project I’ve ever worked on in my LIFE.

Sound familiar?

Most every professional actor or stage manager I know is the same way. We all want our shows to be AWESOME and we all give our creative souls/sweat/blood/tears/time/energy/mileage/nights/weekends/holidays to make sure that audiences don’t go hungry for stories/entertainment… ever.

Acting is a SERVICE job. We are giving a service to the community. And what we give has great value. (Preachin’ to the choir.)

When I joined AEA in 2007, the main reason I decided to “go Equity” was because I was exhausted from giving my 120% and not feeling that I was being duly compensated in kind.

As a “non-union" member, I learned that I wanted the opportunity to be able to afford to pay my rent and not have to work three other jobs in order to have the privilege of performing on stage.

I didn’t want to be forced to sleep in my car between shows because there was nowhere backstage to lie down.

Or go home and wash my own costumes (often times provided by me) after every show and have them pressed and ready for show-time.

I didn’t want to be required to perform 12 shows in a week without over-time pay.

Or be asked to dance on rickety platforms that had not been properly reinforced because it was to “expensive.”

Ugh! I am so demanding!!! Right? I knooooow…

What I contribute as an actor on-stage has VALUE.

And I knew that by getting my Equity card, the union would honor the value of the service I was providing and, in-kind, provide me with protections that would enable me to do my work in a safer, less-stressful and ultimately waaaay more fun environment.

I am a professional actor. And, by definition, a professional is a person that is compensated for their work.
I knew that by joining the union I was limiting myself to only accepting union work in the future. There were tons of non-union shows that I would no longer be able to participate in.

But in all honesty, that didn’t bother me in the slightest.

I would rather not work at all than to work without commensurate reciprocity. And, for me, joining the union meant that I was giving myself a certain price-tag; that my 120% was worth the union contract.

There has not been a single day that I’ve regretted my decision to join. 

I have such a respect for all the AEA members who have, like me, dedicated their lives to this crazy business of show. What an incredible and talented community of brave souls to be a part of!

I am so fortunate.

I don’t know if many of you have seen some of the historical time-lines that Equity has published in past years about all of the battles that have been fought and won for the members since 1913.

The history nerd in me goes absolutely crazy for that stuff. It’s so incredible to read. I seriously love it.

Everything from required safety regulations, mandatory breaks, health insurance, pay-scale minimums, and sooo many, many, more “rights” we take for granted every day have been hard-earned by generations of valiant Equity members who were not willing to continue to accept less than what they knew they were worth!

That is why I always carry three cards with me: my driver’s license, my Visa card and my AEA card. And I will proudly be marching with my fellow Actors’ Equity union members in the NYC Labor Day Parade today.

 (Me & Nick Wyman, President of Actors' Equity)

I encourage you all to find ways to give some love/support/time/energy/shout-outs/participation to your union too.

It’s all about reciprocity.

Soooo much has already been given to help make your job/life/working environment better and more comfortable so that you can do excellent creative work.

For our own sake, for the sake of our peers and for future generations of professional actors to come, let’s not settle for less than we know we are worth, k?

Circles rise together. Let’s remember to take the time to participate in our union and continue to make steps toward strengthening our position globally and supporting each other in our mutual goal of equitable rules/compensation and more opportunities for all current and aspiring Equity members!

Happy Labor Day to all!


“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”
~Herman Melville (novelist & poet, 1819-1891)