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Think back to that time in high school when a “real life actor” came to speak to your drama class, bearing that prestigious asterisk by their name followed by three glorious letters: AEA. You thought to yourself, “Someday, that’ll be me.” But now that the opportunity to join the union is finally here, you’re realizing it’s a much more complicated decision than your 15-year-old self understood.

Yes, joining Actors’ Equity Association gives you credibility, and it’s easier to join now more than ever. But what if the prestigious title of “Equity Actor” actually closes more doors than it opens? Without carefully considering where your career’s at, you risk jumping the gun and slowing all that momentum you’ve built to a stop.

So—to join, or not to join? That is the question. Though there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some key points to keep in mind when considering union membership. So keep reading, as we share the five crucial factors to consider before you take the AEA plunge.

You’ll have to give up non-union work.

“So, what?” you ask. After all, Equity jobs pay way more. And if you book one, you’ll get a shiny contract and endless bragging rights.

That may be…mostly true, but non-union work actually has its benefits. Yes, really! For one, there’s way more of it, and with more and more theaters dropping their Equity statuses due to the pandemic, that’s not likely to change. Plus, Equity contracts cost a pretty penny, so you can kiss those experimental, gritty downtown productions goodbye.

As a non-union actor, you can play both sides. You might be waiting in line for hours at Ripley-Grier, but you can still get seen at EPAs. And a solid non-union production is a great way to keep your day job while building your resume. Speaking of resumes… 

Your credits need to stack up to your competition’s.

Once you’re a member of Equity, you’ll be competing with talent at the top of their game. We’re not trying to spook you — but you should be ready to do some honest self-reflection. 

If you’ve already worked for Equity employers or as part of the EMC program, that’s a good sign that you’re ready to book consistently. A prestigious MFA or some workshops with the right people can help you offset lack of work experience with great connections to get that darn foot in that darn door.

One word: Benefits.

Joining Equity isn’t all about status. It’s designed to make your work as an actor a bit more, well, normal. On an Equity contract, you’re entitled to breaks, days off, and safe working conditions, not to mention minimum salary and overtime pay.

To set you up for a sustainable, long-term career, Equity membership includes health care, pension, and 401k benefits – if you’re working consistently, that is. Plus, perks like members-only events and discounts on everything from Broadway tickets to car rentals definitely sweeten the deal. 

What you just read may sound like the world’s smarmiest timeshare ad, but we promise there’s no catch! Unions like Actors’ Equity are meant to protect workers, but this protection doesn’t come without a price.

It’s all fun and games ‘til the fees are due.

Make sure you’re sitting down for this next bit. Equity requires an $1,800 initiation fee paid over the course of three years, with $600 due up front. Plus $88 in membership dues due twice a year, plus 2.5% of your gross earnings. 

Once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, take this as a reality check. Given that you’re not likely to keep a day job on a union contract, you need to be confident that you can work enough to sustain yourself while paying your dues.

Timing is everything.

Unless you’re a lighting-in-a-bottle overnight success, your road through this industry will be a long one. And chances are, the Actors’ Equity Association isn’t going anywhere. Rushing to join the union before you’re ready won’t help you in the long run. In fact, it might cut you off from the opportunities that could launch your career.

Frankly, most early-career actors are better off waiting. Staying in the non-union world helps you gain valuable experience, make strong connections, all while supporting yourself with a part-time job. And remember, you can always go out for Equity roles too!

When it’s right, it’s right.

No two actors’ journeys will look the same. With so many factors at play, there’s no universal reason to join, or not to join AEA. Just like our decision to make the same Hamlet joke twice in one blog, your decision to join Equity is uniquely yours. You’re not any less of an actor for waiting it out.

No actor, regardless of Equity status, should have to put their career on the back burner. Worthwhile Events Services has you covered with the perfect side hustle so you can keep supporting your dreams.