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How to Take Full Advantage of Your SAG-AFTRA Membership

How to Take Full Advantage of Your SAG-AFTRA Membership
Photo Source: SAG-AFTRA

For the first eight years of my SAG-AFTRA membership, I paid my dues so I could work union jobs. I didn’t take advantage of all the ways it could have saved me money, made me a better artist, provided me with resources to bring passion projects to life, helped build meaningful relationships with other actors, or help me grow my profile as a personality in our industry because I just wasn’t aware of the opportunities. 

That all changed two years ago when I got more involved. Today, I volunteer on a number of initiatives, including member education in Los Angeles, as a committee member and head of the commercial department for the SAG-AFTRA L.A. Conservatory, supporting the commercials organizing and recapture initiative to bring non-union commercials under union contracts, working to make casting director Workshops a service provided by our union, and bringing other entertainment unions together with ours in creative fellowship and solidarity, like with the WGA to do regular joint table reads, bringing skilled professional writers and actors together in amazing collaboration.

I have only one goal with all my union participation: to make our union membership as tangibly valuable as possible.

I want every actor to know what SAG-AFTRA can do for them right now, and how easy it is to get involved and take advantage of its programs and resources for your benefit.

READ: Stand up for your Union  

Save money.
If I had just done a little research, I would have known that my union membership could have saved me thousands of dollars on everything I buy, from food to electronics to entertainment, gym membership, meals, car rentals, even my Backstage and IMDb subscriptions. I could have saved $300 on the TV I just bought from Dell.  

If you’re going to buy anything, you need to search our deals and discounts first. We get SAG-AFTRA-specific discounts listed on sagaftra.org and AFL-CIO affiliate discounts on unionplus.org and unionplus.abenity.com. And here’s a comprehensive, ever-evolving spreadsheet we’re working on that lists every deal, discount, resource, benefit, and more that comes with your SAG-AFTRA membership.

We also have our own federal credit unions: SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union and Actors Federal Credit Union. They’re non-profit banks that exist to save our members money on their money, with access to lower interest rates on loans, credit cards, banking, ATMs, etc. Banking there alone could change your entire financial landscape.

Learn from the best.
To be consistently working actors, we need to be at the top of our game. Laziness and desire will not get you booked. Only your skill will do that, and it will still take everything you’ve got to succeed and do great work. Who better to learn from and with than your fellow working actors in our union?

We have three amazing ways to get informed and strengthen our craft provided by the union: Member Education, The Conservatory, and The Foundation. These are also awesome places to meet and build friendships with other actors.

READ: How to Join SAG-AFTRA 

  • Member Education: Large-scale events like lectures, presentations, special guests, and panels. They cover all kinds of important topics like strategy, craft, marketing, headshots, social media, and more. They’re listed under the Local Events section of your union local.
  • The Conservatory: One-on-one, personalized instruction. Membership in the L.A. Conservatory is currently $45 a year, which gives you access to free classes taught by vetted professionals across five disciplines: theatrical, commercial, business, improv, and voiceover. For example, all commercial audition technique classes are now taught by top commercial casting session directors. It’s an amazing opportunity to build relationships with and learn from the very people running your auditions and callbacks every day. You can’t get that anywhere else.
  • The SAG-AFTRA Foundation: A separate non-profit company from the union, so it is not bound by the same rules and governance. This often gives them more resources, speed, and flexibility to provide amazing services and events like emergency financial assistance, educational scholarships, volunteer opportunities to support child literacy, screenings and interviews with celebrities, casting and representation workshops, an incredible voiceover lab with classes, and a variety of panels and lectures on many aspects of our business as well.

Distinguish yourself by serving. 
Just by rolling up your sleeves and being willing to lend a hand to union initiatives and projects, you can build your profile as an actor in our industry and make a huge difference while doing it. There are 30 existing committees in Los Angeles alone you can pitch in with. 

What’s more, we need working actors to run for elected positions like delegates and local and national board seats as union staff needs guidance from the actors working union contracts. That’s the only way we know what to fight for in the next contract negotiations.

We need to increase member solidarity in every way possible, support our members being the best (and most-working) artists in their disciplines, and ensure the future collective bargaining power and relevance of our union as technology continues to change how everything in our lives and industry works. 

Our union is only as strong as our solidarity. If you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA but you’ve never stepped foot into the union’s offices and said, “What can I do?” now’s your chance to make a difference while making friends. Email me at shaan@shaansharma.com and I’ll happily help you find something to do that you’ll enjoy and that makes a meaningful contribution to our union.

And that really is the point of all this. It is our union. It unites all of us together. It can’t protect and serve us if we don’t protect and serve it. Act like you care.

Shaan Sharma is a session director, on-camera acting teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.” For more information, check out Sharma’s full bio!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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