So, you booked a professional show and you have a union card in your pocket. The exciting first day of rehearsal arrives and you’ve filled out your contracts and contact forms. You’ve mingled with the other actors, munched on some snacks, and maybe even done a table readthrough of the play already. Then, the producer asks all nonunion members to leave the room. What’s happening? Well, it’s time for an election. The race? Union deputy for the production. Gathered in a clump, the union members look around at each other. Someone has to step up and it feels like a schoolyard game of “not it.” The seasoned actors have seniority and thus, the right of refusal. The stage manager isn’t comfortable assuming the role. The principals have too much on their plate. Before you know it, you’ve been elected as the company deputy. What now? Well, here’s what you need to know.
What is a deputy?
Actors’ Equity Association is the union for stage actors and stage managers in the United States. While there is a hierarchy of elected volunteers and professional staff members who run the union’s overall operations and oversights, at the grassroots level the union relies on members to communicate workplace needs, concerns, and conditions. It’s up to the members on the ground to hold producers accountable for following the terms of the labor agreements. So, deputies are elected to be the union’s eyes and ears within productions.
How are deputies selected?
A vote selects deputies. Candidates volunteer to be considered but sometimes they can be informally nominated by another member of the production. I’ve been elected as a deputy twice before and each time no other actor volunteered.
Stage managers sit in on elections because Equity represents them too. However, most stage managers will refuse a nomination because their leadership position can be unique from the actors’ experience at times. Usually, a deputy is seen as a collaborator with the stage manager—necessitating it to be two separate positions in the rehearsal hall. Child actors or minors are typically not considered for the role of deputy either.
Just as earning your union card is seen as a rite of passage, so too can volunteering as a deputy. Sometimes less-experienced actors get encouraged to step up so they can learn more about their labor union and serve the movement. Typically, deputies have an interpersonal relationship or a social reputation among the company as being a dependable and capable representative of the cast.
What do deputies do?
Depending on the contract, deputies will submit regular paperwork to the union’s offices, documenting work hours, facility conditions, and injury reports. The deputy is not a labor negotiator or an enforcer. Instead, the deputy provides authentic testaments to the working conditions so the union’s staff can intervene if necessary.
What are the qualities of a good deputy?
Approachability and alertness in the rehearsal room.
When a colleague comes to you with a concern or question, you should listen to them carefully and make a point to document their concerns in a safe place.
Attention to detail.
Deputies must read and study the labor contract their production is under so they can appropriately compare it to the conditions of their workplace. How can you know what to report if you don’t know the standards?
A deputy will be required to volunteer extra duties within a rehearsal process and performance run. Added on top of learning lines, costume fittings, call times, or side hustles, there can be a lot to manage. Deputies must be strategic and responsible in pacing themselves and making sure they do not slip on any of their tasks.
A balanced and fair demeanor.
The deputy must maintain a professional attitude among the union company, the nonunion company, the producers, and the director. The deputy should not be seen as a hall monitor but instead as a role model of professional collaboration. By demonstrating responsibility, not only does the deputy become more approachable, but the union underlines its legitimacy.
What are some tips for deputies?
Keep track of details.
Union members may approach you with concerns about the workplace. Have a way to record details, quotes, and information if a member shares it with you. If you’re in an environment where it is appropriate to have your phone, send an email to yourself with notes of workplace observations. Otherwise, have a safe place, like a journal where you record your notes, to immediately document details of what people report.
Be aware of where you discuss workplace concerns.
Make sure you secure a safe and professional location that encourages privacy and accuracy. The green room might not be the best place, as people will be coming in and out. The after-rehearsal bar also might not be a suitable location as drinks can exaggerate recollections. Find a spot in or outside the workplace that is suitable for privacy, focus, and trust.
Check the member portal.
Within the union’s members-only portal, there is a Deputy Resource Center that offers protocols on whom a deputy should contact in the event of a workplace emergency.
Know your boundaries.
The deputy role is limited: don’t overstep your authority. Follow the chain of command, if you can: stage manager, regional office, the national office. Deputies cannot give an actor permission to refuse to perform. Only in the event where an actor’s safety is in danger can that happen without the executive director or regional director’s approval.
Be thoughtful about your title.
To be a capable deputy, you must be a reliable colleague. Don’t boast or brag about your title, as you don’t want to create a workplace hierarchy that works against your goal: to be an authentic witness for the work environment of your colleagues.
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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.