Actors’ Equity Is Expanding Its Membership; Makes Open Access Program Permanent

Actors’ Equity said today that it’s making its Open Access membership policy permanent, allowing any non-union theater worker to join who can demonstrate that they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographical jurisdiction. The 51,000-member union had launched the Open Access policy in July of 2021, but it had a sunset date of May 1, 2023.

The union will now begin a three-year phase-out of its Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) Program, under which eligibility for union membership had been limited to those working for an Equity employer or to members of a sibling union such as SAG-AFTRA, the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) or the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).

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“Open Access is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Actors’ Equity President Kate Shindle. “Of course, strength in numbers is a cornerstone principle for any union. But this was never a simple numbers game. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union. Open Access is about providing a pathway to Equity membership that doesn’t depend on our employers, or on our industry’s hiring practices. In the 18 months since we launched, we’ve seen a significant increase in the diversity of our new members. Joining a union is a deeply personal decision, and I’m proud that Open Access has moved that decision into the hands of actors and stage managers themselves.”

The Open Access program has already seen a significant increase in the number of new members of color. In 2020, 26% of Equity members who shared demographic information with the union had self-identified as people of color. Since the launch of Open Access, roughly 38% of members joining through the initiative who self-identified were people of color.

Established in 1978, the EMC Program gave membership candidates time to work alongside Equity members at Equity theaters while earning credit towards eventual membership in Equity. The program was last updated in 2017 to ease the requirements for union membership.

Under the new policy, Equity will no longer admit new EMCs to the program beginning May 8. Current EMCs will maintain audition access for a three-year period. All fees paid to the EMC program may be applied to union initiation fees. As of May 8, 2026, EMCs will no longer be recognized for prioritized audition access and will be seen on the same basis as other non-Equity actors.

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