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  • Thomas Ward

How I Lost my Card


I remember the day I joined Actors' Equity. I went to New York, met up with my best friend from college who was also an actor, went to the Equity building in Times Square, and wrote a check with money that could've been spent on groceries or booze (big drinker at the time) to get my union card. I had accrued enough work weeks through my grad program to be eligible to join. I got my card then I was allowed to go into the equity building waiting rooms and rehearsal halls and bathrooms. I didn't like being there. Too many actors. That was really the only requirement I was looking for in a grad program, by the way. I wanted that card. I wanted that card more than anything. That card would mean that I was a professional actor. I wanted to be a PROFESSIONAL actor which means I wanted to get paid to act on stage. I wanted it to be my job. It was a pretty dumb thing to do. I did two plays in four years. Maybe three. (Again, lots of drinking in those days.) I'm a character actor which means I play small roles. In Shakespeare, I'm the guy who represents large groups of people. "How does the kingdom feel about what Macbeth's been up to?" "I don't know, let's bring that big guy on to give a speech about it. And he can clear some swords and dead bodies off the stage on his way out." "Hi, I'm Lennox, and everyone is PISSED." Theaters have to pay more for equity actors. Guaranteed salary, meager though it may be, they pay into the equity health insurance, and there might be other stuff. Frankly, I've never been interested in the practicalities of... well, anything. I just wanted that card because I wanted to be a professional actor. I quickly learned that being equity didn't mean being employed. However, I was incredibly thankful that I was a dude, because it's harder for women. Just wanted to say that because it's true, and because I'm going to whine anyway. It's fun to be an equity actor. There's lots of cool stuff that comes along with it besides the money stuff. You get to have a special meeting before every rehearsal process begins. All the non-equity people have to leave the room. Then no one volunteers to be the equity deputy and then older people make a younger person do it. Then you're really in on all the jokes and complaining and what I find to be the superiority of "being equity." You get required breaks in rehearsal. You know that your time won't be taken advantage of, which is nice. I remember seeing equity actors watching the clock at the end of a rehearsal day. Counting down. Making quiet threats if the rehearsal ran long. They were chorus members in a musical, as was I, so I get wanting to leave as soon as possible. You get a newsletter. You get to go to auditions that theaters are required to have. I have found those required auditions to be largely meaningless, but I like the idea. I like that the union forces the theater to pretend like they're considering people. It's like in high school and college when everyone knows who's gonna play the lead but you go and give it your all anyway. Keep everyone daydreaming. Money is really the only source of stress in my life. It's really the only consistent thing that creates tension with my wife and I. I hate money. Money was a great source of stress for my father and now that I'm almost forty with kids of my own, I look back at all the juggling he did so that I could go on the school trips and buy the stupid name brand sneakers and have presents under the tree... and it makes me sad and angry. That he went into debt so that I could have a Nintendo and Air Jordans gives me pause, to say the least. I am now fully aware of the overwhelming desire to give your children what they want. Buying things for my kids is an absolute joy and I'm scared as they're getting older and the things they want are getting more expensive. Fortunately I married a woman who thrives on thrift stores. She's also smoking hot. I've never used the equity health insurance. I've always been on my wife's plan (as I am now) or on one from a job of mine. After reading about the equity pension, I'm pretty sure I haven't worked enough weeks to qualify for anything. When iPods came out I wanted one more than anything. Now I have one, I rarely use it because I have an iPhone, and I want an iPad. I don't need an iPad. But I want one more than anything. I bought the iPod with money from a job that I took in large part for the economic security. I remember the day I bought it. I remember the day my first check was automatically deposited. I couldn't believe how much money it was. That job ended badly. Tyler Durden said at a meeting of Fight Club: "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." I've heard rich people say that money doesn't guarantee happiness. Which is fine, but I never asked. Comedian Daniel Tosh says that money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a wave runner and have you ever seen someone frown on a wave runner? One of my favorite stand up bits. Another nice thing about being in the actors' union is that I have something to say to civilians when they ask what I do for a living. "I'm an actor." "Oh really?" "Yeah. I'm in the union." "What's that?" "Let me tell you..." And then we can talk about money and they believe me and then I feel real. And they can tell me what they do and how there's a lot of acting involved in making sales. The other day I talked with a former student's potential employer about a job she was applying for. It was a phone call recommendation. He explained to me what the company does and what her job would be, and I have no idea what the company does or what her job will be. Honestly. It was either too complicated or I quit listening altogether because it was too boring. Probably a little of both. He told me that the applicant had decided that theater (he may have said "the arts" which I find condescending and a term we must quit using if we want people to give a shit) wasn't a good "nine to five." I believe that I found a way to mention that I was in the union. (Happy to report she got the job and I'm genuinely very happy for her.) I was walking our new dog a couple weeks ago and I met our new neighbors who were working in their yard. We introduced ourselves and they asked what brought us to Minneapolis. I told them about Sherry's job at Children's Theatre and that I was an actor and writer. They went "Oh" in a tone of sizing me up. I think one of them even asked, "How do you mean?" And I said I was equity. They are as well, and they work at the Guthrie regularly. Suddenly I was a bit more legit to them. Which is fine. I get it. That's another fun thing about being in the union... the "brethren" feel of it. We've made this commitment. Or we've accomplished this thing. We aren't messing around. But you wanna know what's even more fun than being in the union? Being in plays. I was catching up with my friend AJ the other day because her email address has changed. I told her about the non-union gig I just took. I feel this need to mention that part to everyone I've told. One time my sponsor told me that no one was as obsessed with me as I am. AJ said this in her message: "I think leaving the union is a great choice for what it's worth. It occurred to me recently that I got into theatre because I loved not just what it does for audiences but what it does for people working on it. Working on theatre is good for people; it's exciting and freeing and makes people happy. I originally liked directing so much partly because I liked being able to encourage and build up the actors. The whole snobbery about professional theatre and needing to be a professional came later and really has nothing to do with why I think theatre is important. Community theatre makes just as much of an impact sometimes, and sometimes more. I look down my nose at it because I'm a snob, and I should know better. If I'm really in this because theatre is good for people, my professional status is irrelevant. Not that this honest insight into myself makes it much easier when people ask what I do, and I lamely reply "uh..theatre" or "nothing...just kind of between things" but apparently I can live with a lot less ego than I've been used to keeping around and it's probably good for me." My ego is rebelling that I've taken this non-union job. Not my wallet. Not my pantry. Not anything of importance, practical or otherwise. My stupid, ravenous, fragile ego. I met AJ at that job that ended badly, the one I took for the money. I'm now really glad I took it, for reasons that have nothing to do with money. It's that I met AJ and others like her. I miss learning from students. By the way, I'm not going to scab. I'm leaving the union, so no one needs to report me. Funnily enough, I've known many union members who have scabbed. I've been encouraged to scab by union members, or at least not discouraged to. But that doesn't feel right to me.

In or out, that's how they frame it. So fine. I'm out.

#acting #audition #auditioning #doubt #fear #quitting #theatre