Some years ago – when I was preparing to leave Drama School – I realised that, as a single parent, I simply couldn’t afford to be an actor. It was a moment of great disappointment, and I really thought that I’d just wasted three years chasing a rainbow.
We had a number of visits during our third year. Casting Directors, Agents, working Actors. And also a visit from Equity.
It was a pretty standard visit on the face of it. The Equity representative came along and outlined the reasons that we should join Equity, and made a good case. More on that later.
What that Equity representative really did, though, was help me to get my life back on track.
We were invited, if we had any personal questions, to ask them privately at the end of the session. And that’s exactly what I did. I enquired how on earth, as a single parent, was I going to make this work financially, and hadn’t I just wasted my time?
That Equity representative saved me, by talking me through what was then a new system – the Working and Family Tax Credits system. I had no idea how these could possibly apply to me (because I didn’t understand them), but I was given all the information I needed to make a legitimate claim for both.
Don’t get me wrong, I still picked up non-acting work whenever I could – I’m not a scrounger – but having access to these credits made working as an actor feasible for me given my circumstances. I have no doubt that I’m still in this business because of the advice that Equity representative gave me on that day – so whoever you were, thank you.
Our industry is coming into another challenging period, particularly with regard to help we might get from the state while not working. I’m still working towards understanding all the ramifications of this myself. Working and Family Tax Credits are going, and the new Universal Credit is coming in. I’ve not yet formed a complete picture of how that might affect our profession, but I do know one thing for sure – Equity are doing everything they can to make sure that they understand it.
This is important. Firstly, because I’m not a legal expert on HMRC, new legislation, or how either might affect me as a professional in the theatre, I may well be needing some advice from one of the Union helplines in the not too distant future. Secondly, Equity spend our money hiring people who do know about these things to understand them, work out what is in the best interests of our membership, and then campaign hard to get it – so when I do call those helplines, they’ll have any answers I may need about how any changes affect me.
The thing about Unions is, their strength lies in their collective bargaining power. The more members a Union has, the greater sway it holds in talks where it represents the interests of those members. I was pleased to hear from someone at Equity recently that we’re one Union that’s bucking the trend – our membership base is growing, and that’s a good thing. More money through membership subscriptions means more resources for the Union to work on our behalf when legislation changes, or when we need individual backup in times of need.
If you want a public example of the way Equity positively impacts and works for its membership, check out this letter from Christine Payne, The General Secretary of Equity in The Stage. That’s a good show from the top of the tree, straight into the trade press.
If you want an example of the individual benefits membership brings, have a gander at all the benefits that come with being a member. If you simply look at the benefits in terms of insurance, legal support, tax and welfare support (that’s what helped me at the beginning of my career, remember?) and all the insurance cover you get which comes along with being a member, you’d have to concede that you couldn’t get that amount of backup outside of a Union environment for anything like the cost of membership. So even if you’re not a ‘Union Person’ (whatever that means), it’s seriously sensible to join Equity anyway.
Why am I saying all of this, and why now?
If you go back through my posts on this blog you’ll notice that I, like many in our industry, have struggled from time to time. Sometimes, we need support.
All I know for sure is that I wouldn’t have even got off the starting blocks if it hadn’t been for an Equity representative giving me advice. I’m still in this game because they supported me with good advice at the beginning of my career. Here is how Equity describe what a Union is.
Here is how I describe Equity:
There’s a bunch of us. Decades ago it started with a few, and now there are lots more of us. We stand together so that if one or more of us is in difficulty, the others are there to back them up.
That’s why I’m proud to be a member of Equity. And that’s why I firmly believe that you should be too.
Whatever your politics, put them aside. If you can’t afford the membership, ask people to club together when your birthday comes. By hook or by crook, get yourself a safety net.