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Unions Are Friends, Not Foes.

Often held in conjunction with the word strike, unions have developed a negative connotation over time. This has impacted the initial impression we have toward unions. However, I urge you to consider them for what they truly embody. Unions are organizations that protect, and nurture your passions. There are numerous unions that you can join to continue and enhance your theatrical pursuit. Please take the time to read about the major theatrical unions in the U.S. that perhaps you will one day join.

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I.A.T.S.E. stands for The International Alliance of Stage Employees. This was in fact the very first Broadway union! It was officially founded in 1893, but those involved were involved with work stoppages as early as 1886. It currently has over 130,000 members involved in theatre, film, and TV.

Members are involved in Design, Mixing, Makeup, Broadcast and Stagecraft.

Here is their official site if you are looking for more information:

United Scenic Artists / Via

United Scenic Artists, which was founded in 1897 as the United Scenic Artists Association. It is the labor union for designers, artists, and craftspeople in the entertainment and decorative arts industries. It's often referred to as U.S.A. The union was initially associated with I.A.T.S.E. After a short time, it broke off with them and instead became part of International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. Once again in 1999, U.S.A. became re-affiliated with I.A.T.S.E. U.S.A. has strict standards for admission, which is granted only after passing specified tests. Currently there are approximately 3,800 members.

Current members fall under one of the following categories of specialty and expertise:

SCENIC ARTIST Lay-out, surface decoration, sculpting, mold-making, casting and painting of scenery and properties for all media, plus the execution of models, miniatures, matte-shots and some graphics for motion pictures, commercials and television.

SCENIC DESIGNER Design, sketching, drafting, model building and supervision of scenery for all media. Film or television Art Directors & Production Designers are members of this category. Storyboard Artists are also accepted into the Scenic Design category, and are frequently hired as Assistant Art Directors.

COSTUME DESIGNER Design, selection, painting and dyeing of costumes for all media. Clothing Stylists and fashion coordinators who do styling for motion pictures, commercials and television would be accepted into this category.

LIGHTING DESIGNER Design and direction of lighting for all media except network television and motion pictures.

SOUND DESIGNER Create the aural environments in tandem with other design elements of the production, including the selection and implementation of sound effects and music.

PROJECTION DESIGNER Design of projections for all media. This is our newest category of membership, established in mid-2007.

COMPUTER ARTIST Recently created category to address the evolving visual needs of the entertainment industry.

GRAPHIC ARTIST This category covers graphic artists for television in the Midwest.

ART DEPARTMENT COORDINATOR Assists the Art Director and/or Production Designer by coordinating the schedule, staffing, budget-tracking and physical needs of the Art Department in film and television production.

ALLIED CRAFTS This category includes costume painters. No new members are being accepted into this category.

INDUSTRIAL MEMBERS A Classification rather than an artist category; their job is to assist the Scenic Artist in scenic shops, film and television studios and on locations. An Industrial Member might use the experience gained on the job in order to take one of the exams to become a journeyman Scenic Artist.

For greater detail please go to their official website:

Dramatist's Guild of America


The Dramatists’ Guild of America is more of a professional organization than a formal union. It fosters playwrights, librettists, composers, and lyricists. In fact it is the ONLY organization that promotes these individuals writing for the live stage. It is also known as the Guild, the D.G.A., and the Dramatists’ Guild. Founded in 1912 it was originally part of the Authors’ League of America. The Guild separated from the Authors’ League in 1921. The Guild offers its members standardized contracts for Broadway, Off-Broadway and L.O.R.T. (League of Resident Theatre) productions. They have three levels of membership, which are Member, Associate, and Student.

Did you know that they have a journal? Yep. The Dramatist is the official journal of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc. It is published bi-monthly and is the only national magazine devoted to the business and craft of writing for the theatre. It IS possible to subscribe even if you are not a member!

Here is the link to their official website:

Actors’ Equity Association


Equity or A.E.A., is the union for stage actors and stage managers. Actors’ Equity Association was founded in 1913 under renowned actor, producer, and writer Francis Wilson. Equity made its mark in 1919 when members went on strike and closed down Broadway and Chicago theatres from August to September of that year.

The strike was a reaction to the horrible conditions that actors worked under. These included but were not limited to: receiving no pay for rehearsal, responsible for paying for their own travel and costumes, and could be fired without reason or notice. In the end, theatre managers and producers agreed to honor all of the union’s demands.

Now, there are about 45,000 union members. The union offers over 30 different contracts, which include those for Broadway, Off-Broadway, national touring companies, and many summer and regional theatres, as well as guest artists at universities and other theatres.

Here are some fun facts to peak your interest...

Did you know that prior to AEA’s formation, actors were charged penalty fees for a minor offenses such as “talking in the wings,” “talking loudly,” and “being seen drunk at a bar.” They also had their pay cut in half for the privilege of rehearsing and performing on holidays.

In 1919, the union strike caused Broadway producers to lose upwards of $3 million dollars! That's approximately $40 million by today's standards.

The Equity also has a long history of voicing its opinion against political injustice, including segregation and McCarthy era blacklisting.

For more fun facts go here:

Stage Directors and Choreographers Society


The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society is the newest theatrical union, founded in 1959. As the name indicates, S.D.C. is the union for professional stage directors and choreographers. There are currently about 2,000 members and it is continuing to grow.

The SDC also has a journal. Some of their most popular articles are titled "Why I cast that actor". Plus, did you know that they are always looking for passionate people to volunteer? That's right. You could get first hand experience with events, negotiations, or committee work.

Here is the link to their official website:

Please keep in mind that these are only a handful of associations on the expansive list of entertainment industry unions and professional organizations. It is also crucial to remember that you can extend your talents beyond theatre and into the realm of tv and film. Either way, let your creativity and your dramatic imagination run wild!

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