Third-Year MFA Students in Acting Now Eligible for Actors Equity Membership

Dec. 19, 2012Bookmark and Share

Graduates of Columbia’s acting program can claim something besides their diplomas at Commencement: membership in Actors Equity.

Under an unprecedented agreement between the Theatre Program at the School of the Arts and the off-Broadway Classic Stage Company, all third-year M.F.A. students in Acting will be eligible to join Actors Equity Association. In addition, two M.F.A. students in Stage Management each year will be eligible to join.

This agreement marks the first time that a graduate theater program in New York has offered this invaluable bridge to the field. Equity pay scales are significantly higher than in non-Equity productions, but perhaps of greater benefit are the work rules, which provide for days off and breaks, a limit to the number of performances and rehearsal hours per week, and regular contributions to pension and health plans. In addition, only Equity actors can audition for most Equity productions—unless their names are submitted by an agent.

“This is a major step forward for the acting concentration and, of course, for the entire Theatre Program at Columbia,” said Christian Parker, the program’s chair. “Joining AEA will allow our young actors access to professional opportunities otherwise closed to them and to capitalize more quickly on the benefits union membership confers.”

The Classic Stage Company, located downtown near Union Square, performs the classical repertory reimagined for contemporary audiences. Its Young Company, through a partnership with the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia, brings Shakespeare to New York City schoolchildren through performances at the theater and in workshops conducted in the public schools.

By acting in one of these Shakespeare productions in the spring of their third year, either as a principal cast member or understudy, the acting students gain their union membership eligibility. The director of this year's production, Macbeth, is Tony Speciale, a graduate of the M.F.A. Directing program (SoA’08).

“We are so pleased to continue to deepen our relationship with Columbia’s extraordinary actor training program,” said Brian Kulick, an associate professor at the School of the Arts and artistic director for the company. “Their contribution to our Shakespeare for Young Audiences initiative has, in the past eight years, touched the lives of over 12,000 underserved New York City High School students from all five boroughs, introducing many of them to Shakespeare and theater for the very first time.”

Aspiring actors can become eligible for Equity in a number of ways. The most common is by being offered employment under an Equity contract, which is what Columbia’s agreement with Classic Stage provides. In addition, they can join through reciprocal membership in a sister union such as SAG or AFTRA or by earning a sufficient number of Equity membership candidate points by performing work at an Equity theater.

“I am so pleased we have forged a relationship with Classic Stage that creates such an unprecedented opportunity for our talented Acting and Stage Management students,” said Carol Becker, dean of the School of the Arts. “It will help them immeasurably as they leave the Theatre Program and head out into the world as professionals.”

Columbia’s graduate Theatre Program enrolls 16-18 third-year Acting students each year.

—by Columbia News Staff

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