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After landing an agent, joining a union is usually high on an actor's to-do list. A union card represents another notch on the belt, another step up on the ladder of success. Suddenly, you're that much closer to making it.
Acting unions offer great benefits, such as contract negotiations, minimum fee guarantees, health and retirement benefits, and more. But if you join a union, you'll also be bound by its rules. That means you can't take any non-union work. You can't do that non-union film no matter how great it will look on your reel, or that non-Equity play no matter how important it is for your resume. It also means that when you go on auditions, you'll be sitting at the grown-ups table. The competition will be at a much higher level. If you're ready, that can be great. But if you're not, you may find yourself blown out of the water.
So take an honest assessment of your career and think carefully before joining. To help you decide, visit the websites of the three major actors' unions listed below. Check out the eligibility requirements, the membership benefits, and the initiation fees and dues. Done all that but still need more information? Give them a call! Phone numbers can be found on the websites:
The Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), representing over 120,000 working actors in film and television, including commercials, industrials, video games and more. http://www.sag.org
The Actor's Equity Association, representing 40,000 actors and stage managers working in live theater.
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) with a membership of over 70,000 performers, journalists and other artists in entertainment and news. http://www.actorsequity.org