By the end of this article, you'll know everything you need to know about the major actor unions, plus specific, actionable steps to get accepted into them so you're protected and start getting paid what you're worth.
No fluff in this guide, just real, actionable advice. Ready to get started?
Actors' unions in the United States help actors get paid fair rates, negotiate actor contracts, and access health benefits. Since every set is different and most actors move from gig to gig, unions like Equity and SAG-AFTRA help establish certain workplace standards, which allows actors to more easily build stable careers in such an unpredictable industry.
The two biggest unions, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and AEA (Actor's Equity Association) oversee most major, legitimate productions that take place in the United States. Joining either union has often been considered a rite of passage for actors because of how hard it is to do so. Once you join, it feels like you've "made it" as an actor.
Martin Bentsen (author of this guide) is an actor marketing coach who uses “outside the industry” thinking to help actors book more work. He’s helped over 6,000 actors with their careers and actor headshots since 2009 and his photography studio City Headshots is ranked #1 on Yelp. He’s spoken at NYU, The New England Theater Conference, The Actor’s Green Room, and other venues.
Want to book more acting work by thinking different? Start with his free Actor’s Toolkit to create new opportunities right away, or visit his website at www.martinbentsen.com.
Some Additional Q&A
What Does Union Mean in Acting?
The term "union" means the same thing in acting as it does anywhere else. A union is a group of workers who organize and unite to make decisions about their workplace and conditions that affect their jobs. In acting, this means tens of thousands of actors have joined together to ensure they are treated fairly and earn decent wages when working on set.
How Do You Get on a Union for Acting?
To get into a union for acting, you must first become eligible to join by following the steps outlined on this page. Once you are eligible, you can pay the initiation fee and submit an application to join the union.
Are Famous Actors Part of a Union?
Yes, all famous actors are members of SAG-AFTRA and/or AEA. If you'd like to see a SAG actors list, just use this search feature on the SAG-AFTRA website. Alternatively, here's a liftoff famous union actors and how they got their SAG cards.
If you enjoyed this article (Actor Unions: The Ultimate Guide), you might be interested in some of these: