True or false?
Excluding cattle calls (open calls, ECCs, EPAs) only union actors can audition, and be hired, for union projects.
Survey says? False.
A non-union actor can audition for and be hired for a union project. And depending on the project plus governing union, the actor can easily be hired either as union or non-union.
"Really?" you ask.
The myth that non-union actors are barred from principal casting consideration for union projects originates from a non-union actor’s misconception of the audition process. But the non-union actor is not alone in perpetuating this myth. Casting notices for productions governed by Actors’ Equity Association spread the fiction as well.
Trade publications often list union notices under a banner for the correlating union (SAG-AFTRA and AEA). At the end of most AEA casting notices is a reference similar to: “Always bring your Equity Membership Card to auditions” or more ominously, "Seeking Equity ONLY for these auditions." Once a non-union actor sees such they think, "I'm not wanted or allowed to attend that audition."
Want to know who places that little membership tag onto a casting director’s breakdown?
The union – even when those union auditions are by appointment only, solely set-up by the casting office. That potential tag dissuader added by the union is prompting non-union actors from doing what they need to do as actors: seek work to pay bills.
I have never once known of a casting director who demands union cards to be flashed preceding auditions-by-appointment. We seek talent not membership identification.
A casting director holding auditions by appointment for a union project can call in whoever they want. Got that? If not, let’s try this again but with an expansion.
A director, producer, writer, casting director, or anyone hiring for a union project and holding auditions-by-appointment can call in whoever they want. I could call in a non-union dog for a human union role if I was so insane (but I’d lose my producer client quick).
However, non-union actors attending union "open calls" (ECCs and EPAs) is an entirely different matter as covered in "ACTING: Make It Your Business." (And by-the-by AEA audition administrators hate when I reference an EPA or ECC as an "open call." For many casting directors when we’re not calling in actors for an appointment, the auditions are then an ‘open call.’)
So when you, as the non-union job seeker, see a casting notice for a union project which is having auditions-by-appointment do not, repeat, DO NOT, hobble your career ambitions by ignoring that casting notice. Submit yourself. If the project is having an EPA, ECC or whatever-the-acronym-for-an-open-call: Submit yourself. Get the land-mail and/or e-mail contacts for the casting office and place yourself into consideration. Casting offices, like mine, do not post all information publicly about our projects. Casting offices often post publicly only what unions require of our clients or to expand the talent outreach beyond talent agencies and managers. If a casting office is holding an open call there's a high probability they're also holding auditions-by-appointment.
If you doubt a non-union actor can audition for a union project that has on its union-tagged casting notice "Only seeking union members," I have many previously non-union actors turned union via my casting union projects you may want to meet.
Never curtail your ambitions. Too many other people will restrain your ambitions for you. Go after every audition for which you’re a match – be it union on non-union.
Still confused about union versus nonunion? Read “14 Actor FAQs Answered!”
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple, and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Backstage and is the author of "ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor." For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.