Thursday, February 16, 2012

Equity Bathrooms

The whole union/non-union question is a debate with as many opinions as there are actors.  In fact, probably two opinions per actor.  Everyone sees it through a complex, individually prescribed lens uniquely cracked and shaped by economics, politics, ambition, practicality, need, desire, and pride.

"Why does there even HAVE to be a union," one experienced non-equity actor friend of mine recently vented.  "Isn't it sad that we need a union to force employers to treat us with respect?!"  Another, just bumped up to must-join status, pipes in, "Don't join too soon.  Why rush it?  Let it build up and come to you."  One dear dancer friend, a card-holding equity member who also happens to be (unjustly) unemployed, beats her breast in dejected frustration after long chorus calls and shakes her fist at the sky. "Lot of good an equity card does me," she observes, irked. "Why can't I get a freaking job?!"  Meanwhile, the friend who just marked the anniversary of her first Broadway contract shrugs.  She works really hard and has made it to the top - the White Way.  I ask her, what's it like up there?  Can she picture herself ever doing anything else?  She sighs.  "I dunno.  Acting has just kind of always fell into place for me.  I'm not really that driven, just too lazy to do something else."

it's blurry because it's so glamorous
Humph.  Right.  So, wtf do I do with all that?  Clearly, punching equity actors or myself in the face solves nothing.  So many actors, so many paths.  I get a huge kick out of hearing stories and opinions, and a recent passion of mind is reading biographies of greats - Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Myrna Loy - to get a sense of HOW they made it happen for themselves.  How?  HOW!?!?!?!

Friends, there is no simple answer.  There is not even a complex one.  There is no answer, actually.  There is no rule of thumb or formula for success in this business.  Whatever advice our friends, family, agents, teachers, coaches, or directors can give us, we are the ones who must make the choice.  After all, making choices is our job.  Choices are what an acting career boils down to - on or off the stage - big or small.  Will I sleep in on my day off because I've been feeling sick and I should listen to my body?  Will I get up and try to crash that EPA even though there are approximately 600 other non-equity actresses who look exactly like me?  Will I buy into AFTRA because they are merging with SAG even though I don't have a lot of TV or commercial credits?  Will I take the risk to step up my game by focusing on better job opportunities and higher quality auditions or stick to what I'm used to?  Questions upon questions, diverging paths upon diverging paths, forks forked by forks on top of forks in the road - and no one else can do it for us.  We have to make a choice.

I remember one of my most feared and respected acting teachers in school saying something along the lines of, "If you're going to make a choice, make a bold choice.  If you're not going to make a choice, stop wasting my time and go home."  Yes, this is a paraphrase.  Confession: not only did I not really understand what she was talking about for an embarrassingly long amount of time, but I've also realized that I tend to avoid making scary choices in my career sometimes.  Sometimes I make the (gasp! shame!) safe choice.  Safe is the worst of all four-letter words, for an actor.  And, what's more, sometimes I prefer to just not make a choice and instead avoid making tough calls, preferring to ride in the nether-gray-lands, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, neither pushing forward nor lagging behind.

hold on to that feelin'
Guys, we all have more power than we realize over the course of our careers.  I've had my EMC card in my hands since September, and I used it for the very first time - last week. 

Gasp.  Shame.

Like me, you probably sometimes just sit around with your EMC least, metaphorically.  Sometimes, we slow down instead of accelerating.  But the thing to realize is, THAT IS A CHOICE.  Not making a choice is actually, itself, a choice.  And that's fine, as long as we are honest about what it is.  Sometimes it's important to listen to your body, listen to your wallet, do what you need to do to survive and take care of yourself.  Sometimes we need to choose to postpone making bold choices until we're in a reasonably safe position of power, stability, or confidence.  But know that it's a choice.  And feel empowered by that.

I'm not sure if it's the right time for me to try to buy into the unions and focus on status and membership and all, but I'll tell you, I now choose to make it the time to learn what this whole EMC stuff is all about.  I choose to pay attention, listen, and learn.  I chose to take the card out of my wallet and use it.  And dudes, there is one definite, massive, enormous, beautiful plus side to having an actors union and an EMC card....two words....Equity bathrooms.

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