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Actors’ Equity Makes Open Access Permanent

The open membership policy, which has sharply increased the percentage of union members of color since 2021, will mean a phase-out of the Equity Membership Candidate program.

NEW YORK CITY: Actors’ Equity Association, the national union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, is making its Open Access membership policy, first announced as a temporary measure in July 2021, a permanent fixture. With a pathway to membership now available to all stage managers and actors with professional experience, the union will begin a three-year phase out of its Equity Membership Candidate program.

Since summer of 2021, the union has allowed any theatre worker who can demonstrate they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographical jurisdiction to join. Previously, eligibility for union membership had been limited to those working for an Equity employer, whether by direct contract offer or through the Equity Membership Candidate program, or to members of a sibling union. When Equity first broadened access to membership, the policy included an expiration date of May 1, 2023, while union leaders developed a plan to open access permanently.

“Open Access is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Actors’ Equity Association president Kate Shindle. “Of course, strength in numbers is a cornerstone principle for any union. But this was never a simple numbers game. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union. Open Access is about providing a pathway to Equity membership that doesn’t depend on our employers, or on our industry’s hiring practices. In the 18 months since we launched, we’ve seen a significant increase in the diversity of our new members. Joining a union is a deeply personal decision, and I’m proud that Open Access has moved that decision into the hands of actors and stage managers themselves.”

In 2020, 26 percent of Equity members who shared demographic information with the union had identified as people of color. Since the launch of Open Access, roughly 38 percent of members joining through the initiative who self-identified were people of color.

As for the EMC program, Equity will no longer admit new candidates to the program beginning May 8. Current EMCs will maintain audition access for a three-year period. All fees paid to the EMC program may be applied to union initiation fees. As of May 8, 2026, EMCs will no longer be recognized for prioritized audition access and will be seen on the same basis as other non-Equity actors.

Actors’ Equity Association, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions, and providing a wide range of benefits, health and pension included.

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