Actors' Equity Association

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This article is about the American labor union. For the approximate British equivalent, see Equity (trade union). For other uses, see Equity.
Actors' Equity
Actors' Equity Association logo.gif
Founded May 26, 1913 (1913-05-26)
Members 43,076 (2014)[1]
Affiliation AAAA (AFL-CIO), FIA
Key people Nick Wyman, President
Office location New York, New York
Country United States

The Actors' Equity Association (AEA), commonly referred to as Actors' Equity or simply Equity, is an American labor union representing the world of live theatrical performance, as opposed to film and television performance (which is represented by SAG-AFTRA). However, performers appearing on live stage productions without a book or through-storyline (vaudeville, cabarets, circuses) may be represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). As of 2010, Equity represented over 49,000 theatre artists and stage managers.[2]


Membership (US records)[3]

Finances (US records; ×$1000)[3]
     Assets      Liabilities      Receipts      Disbursements

At a meeting held at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City, on May 26, 1913, Actors' Equity was founded by 112 professional theater actors, who established the association's constitution and elected Francis Wilson as president.[4][5] Leading up to the establishment of the association, a handful of influential actors—known as The Players—held secret organizational meetings at Edwin Booth's The Players at its mansion in Gramercy Park. A bronze plaque commemorates the room in which The Players met to establish Actors Equity. Members included Frank Gillmore, who from 1918 to 1929 was the Executive Secretary of Actors' Equity and its eventual President, a position he held from 1929 to 1937.[6]

Marie Dressler, Ethel Barrymore & others during the 1919 strike.

Actors' Equity joined the American Federation of Labor in 1919, and called a strike seeking recognition of the association as a labor union.[4] The strike ended the dominance of the Producing Managers' Association, including theater owners and producers like Abe Erlanger and his partner, Mark Klaw. The strike increased membership from under 3,000 to approximately 14,000. The Chorus Equity Association, which merged with Actors' Equity in 1955, was founded during the strike.[7]

Equity represented directors and choreographers until 1959, when they broke away and formed their own union.


In the 1940s, Actors' Equity stood against segregation.[4] When actors were losing jobs through 1950s McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist, Actors' Equity Association refused to participate. Although its constitution guaranteed its members the right to refuse to work alongside Communists, or a member of a Communist front organization, Actors' Equity never banned any members. At a 1997 ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the blacklist, Richard Masur, then President of the Screen Actors Guild, apologized for the union's participation in the ban, noting: "Only our sister union, Actors' Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative lives in the theater. For that, we honor Actors' Equity tonight."[8]

In the 1960s, Actors' Equity played a role in gaining public funding for the arts, including the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Actors' Equity fought the destruction of historic Broadway theaters.[4] It played a major role in the recognition of the impact the AIDS epidemic was having on the stage.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 006-029. Report submitted June 30, 2014.
  2. ^ Healy, Patrick: "Actors’ Equity Association Names Mary McColl New Executive Director". The New York Times, October 14, 2010.
  3. ^ a b US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 006-029. (Search)
  4. ^ a b c d Actors' Equity Association. "Actors' Equity: A 90 Year Celebration". Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  5. ^ Stevens-Garmon, Morgen (May 21, 1913). "100 years of the Actors’ Equity Association", blog of the Museum of the City of New York. Accessed September 9, 2014.
  6. ^ Gillmore on the Screen Actors Guild website
  7. ^ "Timeline, 1919", accessed December 3, 2011
  8. ^ Greg Krizman, webpage: "Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist", Screen Actor, January 1998 (special edition).

Further reading[edit]

  • Paul F. Gemmill. Collective Bargaining by Actors: A Study of Trade-Unionism among Performers of the English-Speaking Legitimate Stage in America. Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, No. 402. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1926.
  • Alfred Harding, The Revolt of the Actors. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1929.
  • Sean P. Holmes, Weavers of Dreams, Unite! Actors' Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013.
  • Lynne Rogers, "The Actors’ Revolt". American Heritage, Volume 47, Issue 5, September 1996.

External links[edit]