Actors' Equity Association

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The Actors' Equity Association (AEA), commonly referred to as Actors' Equity or simply Equity, is an American labor union representing the world of live theatrical performance, as opposed to film and television performance. However, performers appearing on live stage productions without a book or through-storyline (vaudeville, cabarets, circuses) may be represented by AGVA. As of 2010, Equity represented over 49,000 theatre artists and stage managers.[1]

Contents

History

At a meeting held at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City, on May 26, 1913, Actor's Equity was founded by 112 professional theater actors, who established the association's constitution and elected Francis Wilson as president.[2] Leading up to the establishment of the association, a handful of influential actors—known as The Players—held secret organizational meetings at Edwin Booth's old mansion on Gramercy Square.

Actors' Equity joined the American Federation of Labor in 1919, and called a strike seeking recognition of the association as a labor union.[2] The strike ended the dominance of the Theatrical Syndicate, including theater owners and producers like Abe Erlanger and his partner, Mark Klaw. The strike increased membership from under 3,000 to approximately 14,000. The Chorus Equity Association, which merged with Actors' Equity in 1955, was founded during the strike.

Equity represented directors and choreographers until 1959, when they broke away and formed their own union (see: Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC)).

Causes

In the 1940s, Actors' Equity stood against segregation.[2] When actors were losing jobs due to 1950s McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist, Actors' Equity Association refused to participate. Although its constitution guaranteed its members the right to refuse to work alongside Communists, or a member of a Communist front organization, Actors' Equity never banned any members. At a 1997 ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the blacklist, Richard Masur, then President of the Screen Actors Guild, apologized for the union's participation in the ban, noting: "Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative lives in the theater. For that, we honor Actors Equity tonight."[3]

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