Nearly 300 members of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) lined up last Sat., Sept. 10, as part of NYC’s annual Labor Day Parade. The nation’s premier performing arts union currently represents more than 50,000 professional stage actors and stage managers in the US. This parade was a special one for AEA, coming a week after it endorsed Hillary Clinton for president — marking the first endorsement for the nation’s highest political office in the union’s 103-year history.
I am a member of AEA. My goal for the afternoon was to celebrate with my fellow union members and to chronicle the walk in photographs. We walked up 5th Avenue waving banners and signs, calling out, “Fair wage onstage!” and collectively boo-ed as we walked past Trump Tower.
But more than anything, I was taken by the smiles, the hope and the great sense of pride that our particular crowd had for our union.
After the march, I caught up with some of my fellow members to talk about what being a member of Actors’ Equity means to them. Here’s what they told me.
“Being a member of AEA means having the strength of 50,000 people on my side. It means being respected as a trained and skilled worker. It means being an artist, and having a pension. And it means knowing that when I go to work, I don’t have to put myself in dangerous or uncomfortable situations. Among many other things!” (Kate O’Phalen)
“Being a member of the union serves as a daily reminder that I am a tradesman. There is something simple yet potent about that label: tradesman. It acknowledges a skill set, earned through training and experience, that is meant to be useful — its purpose exposed when it is functioning, put into action.” (Lea McKenna-Garcia)
“It means my voice is part of a larger conversation working towards a collective goal. It means I have the chance to work with members and staff, who’ve been where I am as well as where I want to be, who continue to help me navigate a career in our industry. Sharing their resources and knowledge has been an invaluable asset.” (Stuart Green)
“To me, being a member of Actor’s Equity means that I don’t work as much since I joined the union 15 years ago. However, when I do work, it is without a doubt a much better situation, as I feel that AEA has my back when it comes to working conditions. In all honesty, I’m fine with working less for better pay, health, pension and humane rehearsal and show schedules than working non stop with no protection. I also find that union guarantees make it less stressful to take a job out of town at a theatre you might not be familiar with. Since they hold a contract with Equity, you know what to expect in advance and what your rights are. Despite less work, I’d never give any of those rights up.” (Kenny Wade Marshall)
“It means being a part of history and the community. Working actors can have a life and a retirement because of Equity. And if we don’t stick together and keep fighting and collectively bargaining we will lose that. That’s what “Fair wage onstage” is about. We’ve lost ground. We need to make it up.” (Michael Markham)
“I think so often, as a freelancer, you feel very alone and isolated because of the lifestyle of constantly changing work and projects and the constant, independent search for work. Being a part of the union gives you a sense of community, support, and protection.” (Lauren Moriah Stern)
“Being a part of the union, to me, means being a part of a legacy, history, and chosen ancestry. This membership gives me yet another reason to be proud of what I do and what I strive every day to excel in artistically.” (Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy)