Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Joining Process

We've been at it for a while now, but Council review of our current joining process is beginning to coalesce into a plan for change.

One of the great challenges in administering our membership is that Equity doesn't really control how new members join. With the exception of the stage management discipline, apprenticeship is either not offered, or widely bypassed. How widely? Approximately 85% of new joins do so directly, with no apprenticeship credits at all. An additional 10% complete at least part of a 3-credit apprenticeship, but still join before completing it. Only about 5% of new members join having completed an apprenticeship, and most of those are in stage management, where completing an apprenticeship is mandatory.

So, how is it that those new members come to join? Well – assuming you are one of the 85% – pretty much the same way you did. An engager offers an Equity contract to a non-member, and voilĂ ! – instant Equity member. In short, engagers create almost all of our new members.

Neither Equity (nor the engager) nor the new member really know, at the point of joining, whether that first contract will ever blossom into any kind of sustaining and sustainable professional career. Let's be frank – a great many don't. Without question, we should be offering people the highest degree of benefit and protection under contract that we can, but should we compel them to become full members when their career has barely gotten off the ground? That is the question Council has been wrestling with.

There are some obvious plusses and minuses to the current system. 

From a new member perspective, it's a quick route to full membership. However, it costs $750 for that first contract, which is not a small chunk of change. It also locks the new member into an obligation to work under future Equity contracts at a point in their career where they don't have much of a professional engagement history (if any) with which to attract subsequent contracts.

From an Equity perspective, it brings in a steady stream of initiation fees, but it also means that we are constantly adding to our membership and benefit obligations.

Council is currently considering a new system (for members working in theatre) that would not offer instant membership to new joins, and perhaps work in a manner similar to our current probationary membership option. It would offer almost all the benefits of regular membership on those first contracts, but wouldn't lock a new member into a long-term obligation to Equity at such an early stage in their career, when a mix of pro, semi-pro and non-pro opportunity is important for gaining experience and honing skills.

At this point, Council has made no firm decisions, and we are still looking at the administrative and financial impacts a new approach would have, but we wanted to keep you up to speed.

Comments welcome, as always.