Actors’ Equity-How it all Works

by Jun 7, 2018

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The Principal contract is sometimes referred to as “the white contract” while the chorus is often referred to as “the pink contract”.

If you’ve been involved with theatre for a while, and/or you’re seeking to be a professional, odds are that the Actors’ Equity Association is an organization you’re familiar with. You’ve probably heard about “points”, as well as how people are striving to obtain their “card”. But how does Actors’ Equity work exactly? What are the nitty-gritty details?

Well, we’ve put together a summary of this information, and we are ever so gladly sharing it with the world. So sit back, enjoy, and embark with us on a magical adventure full of learning and joy. Or something like that.


To begin with, there are three ways that an actor can become a union member. The first is through obtaining employment under an equity contract. This means that you are offered a job, and because the job is founded on an equity contract, you are eligible for entry into the union. Equity contracts fall into three categories: Principal, Chorus, and Stage Manager. Obviously, the Stage Manager contract isn’t as relevant to this article. However, it’s nice to know that you can find an equity contract and thus obtain equity membership by way of a chorus work opportunity. Also, fun little fact: the Principal contract is sometimes referred to as “the white contract” while the chorus is often referred to as “the pink contract”.

Now you can make all your friends believe that you actually know what you’re talking about. Anyway, the point is that when you land the job, you can apply for Equity membership. Just be sure to get your application rolling with Equity as soon as you are able to. You can only apply for membership based on an Equity contract while you are actively working under that contract. It can’t be done retroactively.



The next way to obtain membership is by being a member of one of AEA’s sister unions. These include SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists), and AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists). In order to utilize this approach to joining the AEA, you must be in good standing with the sister union. You also must be a member of that union for at least one year.

Furthermore, you have to have worked as a performer under the jurisdiction of that union. This means working under at least one Principal contract OR working at least three days of contracted background/extra work. The sister union will also need to give you a statement of good standing for you to include in your AEA application. Remember you’ll also need to pay some of your AEA initiation fee.


The final way to obtain your equity card is by way of the point system, or the EMC (Equity Membership Candidate Program). Essentially what happens is that you secure work at a participating theater, an Equity House, but you are not offered an official Equity contract. Rather you register as a participant in the EMC. You pay a registration fee, which will eventually just be counted towards your AEA initiation fee, and then you start tracking your weeks. You must complete 25 weeks of registered EMC work over any period of time. This means that as you’re building the weeks, they will never expire, and they don’t have to be done consecutively. For every week you work, you get one point (so you’d need 25 points).

After you’ve done this, you have the option of entering “Phase II” of the EMC, which allows you to stay in the program for another 25 weeks. This can be a good option because, during the time that you are an EMC participant, you can still be building your resume and network with non-union work.

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You pay a registration fee, which will eventually just be counted towards your AEA initiation fee…

Sources for this article

Photos on Unsplash.

Well, there you have it folks! There’s a brief, though hopefully somewhat detailed look at the Actors’ Equity Association. For more information please visit And in the meantime, leave us a comment below!


  1. Deadra Chandler

    Great and useful info!

  2. Adam Baird

    Thanks Mariah, This was helpful.


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