Barriers To Equity Admission Are Suddenly Dropped

Big news today from Actors’ Equity Association  the union which represents stage actors and stage managers. The union basically immediately opened membership to anyone who has ever worked professionally as an actor or stage manager on production and ever will, along with members of associated sister unions like SAG-AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA. Anyone who currently in the member candidate program working toward their union card can immediately become a member with any fees already paid to the union counting toward their initiation dues.

It should be noted that the definition of working professionally seems to being paid any amount as long as you can provide a pay stub. The previous process was based on a certain number of hours worked on a production under a union contract.

The union says they are doing this as a step toward diversity and inclusion due to the high degree of self-selection that has existed in the hiring process:

But Equity theatres, like all entertainment industry employers, are disproportionately run by white people, and their programming and hiring decisions show that they often hold biases in favor of people from similar demographics. In fact, recent hiring studies demonstrate that Equity contracts are disproportionately offered to white people, and the majority of new members join via a contract.  Because our membership rules until now have left access to membership in employers’ hands, they have implicitly created a disproportionately high barrier to access for actors and stage managers of marginalized identities. We have inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of people of color and people of other marginalized identities from the benefits of union membership.

In a Backstage article, Diep Tran quotes Equity President Kate Shindle as saying this is not a cash grab after the Covid shutdown:

But she is adamant that Open Access is not a “cash grab” to get more money into the union; Equity was affected in the last year when its members were unable to work because of COVID-19 and thus, pay into their union.

“I am telling you the God’s honest truth when I say that no part of this has felt like any kind of cash grab,” she says.

Shindle also admits that with this change, it may mean that auditions become “more crowded,” but she believes that overall, more members are a good thing: “We’re eager to look at the ways in which structural and systemic racism has permeated our industry and say, Okay, these are things we can just fix without anyone’s permission. We don’t have to have an industry summit in order to say it should be easier to join Equity if you want to join Equity.”

One of my colleague’s first reaction was to wonder if the influx of membership would help the union’s issues with health coverage. Back in April, actors were marching in protest against the union’s change in the number of weeks members had to work in order to receive health coverage, in addition to calling attention to racism, sexism, and unsafe work environments.

It will be interesting to see how this move plays out over the next few years. One of the biggest challenges will likely be broadening the appeal of union membership geographically. While it sounds like anyone who performed for a small stipend could become a member of Actors’ Equity, the restrictions on working on non-union shows may limit people’s opportunities to participate in local or regional productions.

For decades now the fact that acting opportunities were oriented in a few cities, particularly New York City, has been identified as a significant problem. (Call out to Scott Walters who often wrote on this subject.)  The joke about needing to move to NYC from Milwaukee in order to audition for a part in Milwaukee wasn’t far from the truth.

Equity is probably going to have to create new sets of rules that allow people to perform in myriad more circumstances than they currently are. The union was formed over 100 years ago to protect actors from exploitative situations and there are still many areas in which advocacy of a few broad basic work rules like the recent trend away from grueling rehearsal schedules can create new standards of practice.


Colorado And The Case Of The Hidden Salary

I have noticed Drew McManus will get me riled up about an arts administration topic and then suggests I write an Arts Hacker post about it. Last week was no exception. Last Thursday he posted about how he had gone back to requiring employers posting positions on Arts Admin Jobs to include a salary range.  He had done so because there was a growing demand among job applicants and others within the non-profit world to have salaries included.

But that Drew also noticed an editorial on the Chronicle of Philanthropy (registration required) was making waves for suggesting that omitting the salary was in everyone’s best interest. And boy did that garner a spirited response from readers.

With good reason since part of the rationale seemed to be along the lines of someone being grossly underpaid at $40,000 would be too intimidated to apply for a job more appropriately paying $120,000, so it is better to keep the salary hidden….you know, for their sake.

There is a lot more to the effort than just some opinion pieces. As I note in my Arts Hacker post, Show The Salary started in the UK and is an international effort that probably extends even further than my research turned up.

There are definitely signs that there will be immense resistance by companies and organizations to list salary ranges. While there are a number of states and municipalities which have rules against requiring or discriminating against applicants who don’t provide their current salary, only Colorado requires employers to provide salary and benefits information in their employment listings.

As a result, a number of companies who allow employees to work remotely are specifically saying Colorado residents can not apply for open positions. Nike says residents will need to move from the state before performing any work.

Since there are a significant number of positions open in the arts right now, including at the executive level, there is an opportunity to create a strong precedent and expectation of listing salary ranges. Such a simple move is likely to exert a lasting influence and shift in the general work culture among arts organizations going forward.

There is more detail about the whole topic in my Arts Hacker post so check it out.


Time To Include #ShowTheSalary In The Hiring Process


The Phantom Wouldn’t Have To Hide In The Sewers If He Lived During Covid-19 Pandemic

There is a piece on ArtsHacker I recently published dealing with a lot of the legal questions arts and cultural venues face when trying to make re-opening plans. You may be aware that people are pulling out official looking cards saying they are exempt from wearing face masks under the ADA. Those cards are fake in terms of having any authority behind them.

There are many reasons why people will have problems wearing face masks, but there is no automatic exemption. My Arts Hacker post includes a link to a resource provided by the Southeast ADA Center that provides guidance on this issue, including possible modifications that might be implemented.

The post also contains links to three videos by entertainment lawyer Steve Adelman who answers questions about whether you can require people to wear masks, if you can be held liable if someone contracts Covid-19 at your venue, and whether you should you have people sign liability waivers acknowledging they might be exposed to the virus.

One of the things I learned from the third video is that half the disclaimers on the back of tickets shifting risk of injury to visitors or waiving their right to sue probably won’t be enforceable in practice.

A little bonus information for you that isn’t in the Arts Hacker post is survey data Colleen Dilenschneider posted today showing about 70% of people want cultural organizations to make mask wearing mandatory.


A Question Of Face Masks And Liability

Some Things To Consider Before Getting In To Performance Streaming

The challenges of Covid-19 raise for arts organizations has resulted in a number of valuable resources being produced. When I came across them, I am often torn between writing about them on this blog and creating a post for ArtsHacker. Since the latter is more specifically focused on resources for arts professionals, I often opt to write something up for that site.

Let me tell you, it often hurts me to make this decision because I am inevitably trying to find something to post about on Butts In The Seats and it means I gotta keep looking. But fortunately, I can point to the Arts Hacker article at a later time here.

That is a long way round of saying…I am going to be pointing you at a few ArtsHacker pieces I wrote over the next week or so, dear reader.

The most recent one is on the legal considerations for streaming content. I think I am pretty secure in saying that as revenue from live performance rights decline, organizations that administer performance rights are going to start paying closer attention to what is being performed in people’s living rooms.

The Alliance of Performing Arts Conferences issued a guide on The Legal Landscape of Live Streaming that covers a lot of the questions about livestreaming content as well as providing good information about what the pros and cons of different streaming services, depending on your goals and needs.

On the legal side, one of the first things you need to know is that your live performance license, whether it was for music, musicals, plays, etc doesn’t cover live streaming. Your live streaming license in turn doesn’t cover the rights to make a recording of your live stream available for later viewing. None of the above covers permission required from the content creators be they performers, designers, arrangers, etc., or the various unions that might be involved.

Since your streamed content is reaching a much larger audience than the room capacity of your venue, there may be profanity laws of other jurisdictions as well as intellectual property rights of any brands, logos, and trademarks which may appear to consider as well.

Check out my post and the guide for more info.


Legal Considerations For Live Streaming Performances

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