Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Conversation with Actors' Equity

On Monday, February 28, Theatre Bay Area hosted Alt Stages in conversation with Bethany Umbach from Actors' Equity Association.

Alt Stages hosts several round table discussions through out the year on issues facing small, professional theatres. These issues range from publicity and social media strategies to managing a board. The recent conversation with Bethany Umbach was aimed at helping these theatre companies better understand the contract process and the producer's relationship to equity.

A full report of the conversation is available on the Alt Stages Facebook page here. Below are a few of the questions posed to Bethany during the discussion.

Are there exceptions to the rules? If waivers/exception can be made, how do producers pursue them?

Concessions are exceptions to agreements and codes made by the union for certain projects/companies. Codes are often strict and the union doesn’t usually allow for concessions on those projects where codes apply. Agreements have more leniency. The union’s objective is to ensure that actors are paid for their services and treated fairly. Concessions may be requested through the appropriate Equity business representative and will be presented to the appropriate Equity committee for consideration. Contact Bethany Umbach about questions and concerns. (Bethany can be reached at or (323) 978-8080.)

When you say "annual budget," do you mean "operating budget?"

No, this refers to the annual production budget (with regards to MBAT or BAPP).

Who can hire Equity Membership Candidates (EMC) and why?

Anyone can hire and pay an EMC actor as a non-professional/local jobber (provided they are not a member of any of the 4A's unions), but only seasonal agreements (such as BAT) allow the EMC program to be approved for us and for those actors to earn weeks (points) towards Equity membership. EMC program approval is granted in theatres where there is a minimum equity ratio and an equity stage manager required, along with other criteria. The EMC program is set up to be a mentorship program if there are not enough equity members to mentor an EMC, so having Equity Actors and stage managers at the theatre is essential.

What are the time frames suggested for approval for the various contracts?

Deadlines are listed here and in the Bay Area Equity Contract Comparison. All deadlines are before the first rehearsal and are intended to give both the producer/company and Equity time to work out the contract.

What is the general path from BAPP to MBAT? Is there a bridge?

The goal is to get actors paid. Contracts serve members in specific areas. The BAPP will not change much in the future, but the MBAT is the lowest agreement. The MBAT is the bridge between codes like the BAPP and agreements like the BAT. There really is not really a way to create an agreement between a BAPP and MBAT due to minimum wage and legal employment issues.

How does a company operating on a MBAT contract hire an actor who has opted for financial core with American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA) or one of the other sister unions? Are they considered union?

If they are financial core with AFTRA they are not actually members of AFTRA. If they are AFTRA members or members of one of the other sister unions, they should be hired on an Equity contract.

How does theatre in an educational setting apply to union contracts? Is a project considered educational simply by virtue of being performed in a physical school setting?

There are some projects that don’t seem to fit into the above codes or agreements, or maybe there have been rumors about what kind of contracts are needed for outdoor theatre, educational theatre, children’s theatre or some other specialty show. The best way to get specific questions answered is to call equity and have a phone conversation with a representative about what the performance will be, who it is intended for, why it is happening and who will be involved and how. Being clear, open, honest and willing to have a dialogue is the first best step to getting the best agreement or code.

What if a company/performance doesn’t take in any ticket revenue, they just pass the hat?

It depends on how many people are expected at a performance and where the performance will be. Even if all revenue is by donation and the number of seats are uncontrollable (like in outdoor theatre) there is a way to make it possible for equity participation (LOA or concession to a standard agreement). Producers/companies won’t know if they don’t ask.

Once you go on one equity contract, are you stuck at that level?

No. Equity wants producers and companies to be able to move up to the next agreement level, but they generally don’t want producers/companies to move backwards. Remember, Equity’s goal is to get it’s members paid fairly for their work and to make certain employment opportunities for its members are possible.

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