If you’re an actor or want to become one, then chances are you’ve heard of Equity. The trade union for performers and creatives across TV, film and stage, Equity’s more than 47,000 strong membership and leadership team fight for better pay and conditions, as they have done since the organisation started out in 1930. To find out why you might want to join the union, head over to our guide on just that. To find out exactly what Equity is and how to become a member of Equity, keep reading...
A trade union is an organisation that protects its members from unfair treatment by employers, poor conditions, and pay disputes.
When the unfortunate happens (and it often does), trade unions like Equity can step in and represent a member’s interests. They can even provide legal advice and take employers to court. The union uses its size and importance to call for better pay, conditions and regulations to protect performers as well as pushing for more opportunities for actors, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, or class.
You may have heard of Equity Minimum or an Equity Contract. That means a set of pay and conditions which the union has agreed should be the minimum requirement for employing an actor. Most theatres, TV and film production companies, and advertising agencies agree to pay Equity Minimum because the union has fought for a fair deal from employers.
Joining means becoming a member by purchasing a subscription.
Your subscription, often referred to as subs for short, is a fee which supports the work of the union. The amount of subs you pay is based on your annual income, and once you become a member you need to pay subs each year. To join, there’s a one-off joining fee, which is reduced if you had a student membership.
You can find the current joining fee and annual rates for subs here.
You need to be working professionally in the industry, unless you are a student.
First, you need to fit into one of the categories of performers and practitioners that Equity support. This list is regularly being added to as Equity welcomes new types of performers into the union, most recently professional wrestlers. The union accepts everyone from actors, dancers, storytellers, and stand-ups to and cabaret artists, but if you’re unsure about whether your specific area work means you can join Equity, it’s best to get in touch.
You’ll need to be working professionally in any of these areas and to complete an application, either online or by post. To apply, you need to have evidence of paid professional work. This can be electronic, like contracts, emails, screenshots, or bank statements. We’ll come to Student Memberships later but for Full Members you’ll need to prove you have at least one of the following things:
- Evidence of having undertaken a job on an Equity contract somewhere in the performing arts.
- Evidence of earnings of £500+ from the industry in an area of work covered by Equity. For those aged 16 or under your earnings must be £250+.
- Proof of professional employment and earnings from outside the UK.
- Membership of an FIA affiliated union (such as SAG AFTRA).
If you don’t have one of these things, you can work until you do and apply for membership at a later stage.
Want to build your body of acting work? Check out our UK auditions.
Alongside a Full Membership, there are Student and Graduate Memberships.
Student Memberships are open to anyone on a higher or further education course (NQF level 2 or above) lasting one year or more that is preparing you for work in the industry as any kind of performer, stage management, theatre designer, theatre director, choreographer, or professional broadcaster. You can become an Equity Student Member as soon as you start your course, but note that student memberships are not open to GCSE or A-Level students. Read more about Student Memberships here.
The good news for graduates from performing arts courses in the last two years is that you can access all the benefits of a Full Equity membership at half the price. Equity’s Graduate Membership offer lasts up to two years from finishing your course.
In brief: support.
You’ll get all the support you would expect from a union as well as the chance to reserve your Equity Name, 24-hour support for bullying and harassment, access to the union’s nationwide network of local branches, the ability to join their pension scheme, discounts with your membership card, and much more.
For an in-depth look at all the benefits of joining Equity, check out Why UK Actors Should Join Equity.
For a start, Equity is a lot easier and cheaper to join than actors’ unions elsewhere.
American unions like Actors’ Equity and SAG AFTRA require performers to build credits and jump through hoops in order to be eligible for membership. And once you are eligible, “initiation fees” range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Another important difference is that if you become a member of UK Equity you can still undertake jobs that are “Non-Equity.” These are roles that are either paid less, or ones where the employer isn’t using an Equity-approved contract. In the US, once a performer becomes a member of Actor’s Equity they are not allowed to take Non-Equity roles.
Being a member of Equity doesn’t mean you have to stop taking low paid or voluntary work.
You deserve to be paid for work. It’s far from ideal that there are many unpaid or poorly paid acting roles out there, but it’s understandable that you will work for free in the hope it could lead to better things. You can still work for less than Equity Minimum even if you’re a member of the union but if you are thinking of taking a role, check out the union’s Professionally Made, Professionally Paid campaign. You can also report dodgy castings or exploitative work practices and there’s even a letter you can use to turn down low-paid work.
Equity is the only trade union for actors in the UK but there are other membership bodies and guilds that offer benefits to actors.
We’ve got a handy rundown of four more membership bodies you might want to join if you’re wanting to access training, perks, or fight for better working conditions for actors. Alongside the ones mentioned there, there are campaign groups such as ERA 50:50, which fights for equal opportunities for female actors, and Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PIPA).
More for UK actors? Check out the magazine.