(Lily Janiak’s article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, 8/31.)
Open Access came after a year of what many describe as the union’s slow or insufficient adaptation to the pandemic.
In July, the union Actors’ Equity Association surprised the theater industry, including many of its own members, with a new “Open Access” policy. Effective immediately, it said, any actor or stage manager who has been paid for any gig could join — no matter the theater company, no matter how meager the wage or honorarium.
Previously, one way members could join was by working a certain number of weeks (for many years, 50 weeks; then, starting in 2017, 25) as an Equity Membership Candidate. That process could take a very long time — actor Ed Gonzalez Moreno, who recently moved to New York from the Bay Area, said it took him a year; Oakland actor Brennan Pickman-Thoon said it took him two years.
In an email to members, the union framed the change as a racial justice issue. The old system gave too much power to employers who pick which shows to mount and which actors to cast, according to the email. The new policy came from the union’s Diversity and Inclusion Retrofit, an anti-racist initiative created following the murder of George Floyd.
“Equity theaters, and indeed all entertainment industry employers, are disproportionately led by and populated with white people,” the email read. “Our membership rule has created a disproportionately high barrier to access for actors and stage managers of color.”
But the new membership policy also follows more than a year’s worth of dire-sounding emails sent to members about paying their dues.
“We understand that many of you have a long list of competing financial obligations and very little income,” said one email from April 3, 2020, which was shared with The Chronicle. “If you can pay your dues, or even a portion of your dues, it is especially urgent that you do so.”