As you explore ClaimFame’s hundreds of casting calls and audition notices, you may notice the words “union” or “non-union” appearing at the bottom of the call. These refer to the major acting unions in the United States. There are great reasons to join a union, but it’s absolutely not necessary if you’re just starting out. Here are some things you need to know before you decide if unions are right for you.
First, why do unions exist? The unions were formed to allow actors to have a say in their working conditions. They regulate how many hours an actor is allowed to work, establish minimum wages, and lay out many other guidelines to give performers stable working conditions. Without them, there would be nothing stopping a producer from requiring performers to work 16 hour days for pennies!
Know your unions: The two main unions are The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Actors Equity Association. SAG-AFTRA primarily handles filmed work such as movies and TV shows, while Actors Equity covers stage work.
How to get in: Unions are only right for certain types of performers, and you can’t just sign up out of nowhere. To join SAG-AFTRA, you have to either work on a project that requires you to sign a SAG-AFTRA contract, or be given a speaking line while working as an extra on a project. To join Actors Equity, you must either again sign a contract with a production working within the union’s guidelines, or obtain membership through the Equity Membership Candidate Program. If you join one, you become eligible for membership in the other. Full membership rules can be found at the unions’ respective websites.
Reasons not to be in a union:
Not being associated with a union is perfectly fine, and many working actors never join during their careers! Being outside the union can provide you with a greater range of roles, especially from up-and-coming creatives and non-traditional projects. You can avoid having to pay dues and hefty initiation fees of up to $3000! Performing in non-union roles allow you to focus on your craft rather than worrying about whether this project meets some arbitrary membership requirement. In the end, being in the union does not guarantee that you will be given roles, so why worry?
The decision to join a union is one of the biggest decisions an actor makes in their career. Websites like theatrgroup.com can be extremely helpful in understanding the pros and cons of membership. Start by exploring our library of casting calls and auditions. Union or non-union, there’s a role out there for you!