In 1947, Actors' Equity banned members from performing at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. until it reversed its discriminatory audience policy. Five years later, the theatre trashed its policy.
In 1960, when Broadway producers refused to negotiate a pension plan for members, Equity called for a strike. Thirteen days later, the pension plan was in place, and became the blueprint for pension plans in the theatre industry.
Today, with such hefty national topics like marriage equality, health care and arts funding taking center stage with legislators, Equity members are proud to be standing at the forefront of these historic issues, which is one of the reasons Equity’s National Public Policy Committee held its first annual NPPC Summit on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
“Those of us on the Public Policy Committee really would like Equity to participate in these quality of life issues,” said Marjorie Horne, Councillor and NPPC co-chair. “Equity has always been at the front of these issues.”
The daylong event was centered on having the committee focus on what topics they would like to prioritize and bring to the attention of Council. More than a dozen members of the committee, including Horne, Third Vice President and co-chair Ira Mont, Western Regional Vice President Doug Carfrae and Eastern Regional Vice President Melissa Robinette, gathered in the Council Room (some via phone hook-up) to discuss in depth the various public policy topics. Executive Director Mary McColl and Assistant Executive Director, Eastern Regional Director and General Counsel Tom Carpenter were also on hand for the meeting.
One goal of the committee is to broaden AEA’s reach and influence on government bodies, both institutional and elected whose regulations and policies affect the lives of Equity members and the state of the arts in the U.S. Another goal is to develop similar relationships among other entertainment unions and with other allies like arts and social justice organizations.
Some of the issues that the committee spoke to this year included arts funding and education, marriage equality, the qualified performing artist tax credit, white spaces, health care and productions/tax incentives for live theatre.
At the summit, the committee looked at a briefing that AEA staff had put together about the parameters of various issues, Equity’s existing policy position, staff recommendations and other items.
“The committee created a structure where they could actually have these conversations in a thoughtful way,” said Carpenter. “The quality of the discussion was terrific; the members were focused on the issues.”
Carpenter stated that the committee will put forth three new resolutions to the Council. The resolutions will ask the Council to endorse issues like equal pay for women, voting rights and the employment nondiscrimination act.
“There are some issues that are really important to Actors’ Equity,” said Carpenter. “So those are going to be a priority.”
Additionally, Equity seeks to build alliances and coalitions with other organizations if the issue cannot be moved by AEA alone. That’s why one of the key goals of the committee is to support lobbying efforts for arts funding, which includes an annual trip to National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. where Councillors and staff meet with legislators to discuss various topics. The committee also monitors state and local politics in the different regions.
For Horne, the most significant aspect of this committee is getting more members involved in their union. That means getting members to participate in policy issues across the country.
“If we keep going into the communities, it means that members across the country that don’t have a day to day relationship with us can participate in some of the activities in each of the regions and each of their cities,” Horne said. “That would be one of the best things that his committee could do for the union.”