Behind the Curtain: The Wacky World of Acting Unions

Behind the Curtain: The Wacky World of Acting Unions

As an actor, you’re used to playing all sorts of roles, from the dramatic to the comedic. But did you know that there’s a whole cast of characters behind the scenes working to support you and your career? Acting unions exist in both Canada and the United States. Joining one can have a significant impact on an actor’s career. Because they can help you navigate the complexities of the industry and support your career. In this article, we will explore some of the most prominent unions for actors in the US and Canada. And of course the benefits they offer to their members, but also the cons.

Today’s article is a bit longer than usual, so if you’re short on time, don’t worry. Just head straight to the table of contents and click on the parts that pique your interest the most. I’ve got plenty of great information to share, so feel free to browse to your heart’s content!

Unions and organizations exist to support actors and protect their rights. They are ensuring that you are fairly compensated and treated with respect. The unions represent actors in collective bargaining agreements with producers and studios. They work to secure better pay, benefits, and working conditions for their members. These unions and organizations also provide training, educational resources, and networking opportunities. Everything that can help you improve your skills, build your career, and make connections within the industry.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the world of acting unions. We will learn about their history, types, benefits, drawbacks, and how to join them. The entertainment industry is a complex and competitive field, and actors face many challenges in their pursuit of success.

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Canadian Acting Unions

History of Canadian Acting Unions

The Canadian entertainment industry is relatively young compared to its American counterpart. The first Canadian acting union, the Association of Canadian Radio Artists, was established in 1949. It later merged with the Canadian Television Artists Association to become the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA).

Types of Canadian Acting Unions

There are several Canadian acting unions, including the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA), the Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP), and the Union des Artistes (UDA). Each union represents different types of actors, including those working in film, television, theater, and radio.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA)

ACTRA, which stands for the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists, is a national union that represents over 28,000 professional performers working in English-language recorded media in Canada, including TV, film, radio, and digital media. It’s considered the foundation of Canada’s highly acclaimed professional performing community. They are known for organizing and representing Canadian cinema, television, and radio artists and promoting and protecting their interests.

ACTRA is responsible for collectively bargaining with major networks like CBC, CTV, Global Communications, and Access, as well as the independent television production and broadcasting industry and the advertising industry, to establish minimum fees and conditions for performers. Additionally, ACTRA offers a variety of resources and services to its members. For example contract and professional development advice, healthcare and insurance benefits, and even an emergency fund for those in need.

Overall, ACTRA plays a crucial role in Canada’s entertainment industry, they also offer resources to help actors develop their careers. For example, they provide workshops and training sessions on topics like auditioning, voice acting, and on-camera performance. Additionally, ACTRA maintains a job board where members can find auditions and job opportunities. ACTRA provides a sense of community. They support actors in the industry and offer a variety of networking and social events for members.

As an actor, being a part of a union like ACTRA can help you to establish yourself in the industry and find work more easily. So, if you are a performer working in recorded media in Canada, joining ACTRA could be your next move.

Learn more about the union at

The Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA)

The Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) is a professional association that represents Canadian actors, performers, and stage managers in the live performance industry. Established in 1976, CAEA transferred 2,000 members from the U.S.-based Actors’ Equity Association. Today, the organization has over 6,000 members working in theatre, opera, dance, and other live performance arts across Canada. As a member of the CAEA, actors have access to a range of resources, including benefits, contracts, and protections. These resources are designed to ensure that performers are fairly compensated and have safe and respectful working conditions. As a member of the International Federation of Actors, the CAEA is also committed to promoting the interests of performers on a global level.

CAEA offers various membership categories, including apprentice, candidate, and full membership, each with its own eligibility criteria and benefits. For instance, you have to participate in CAEA productions as full members. They have access to benefits such as health insurance, pension plans, and other forms of financial protection. Additionally, CAEA provides its members with support and advocacy in areas such as professional development, safety standards, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.

If you’re an actor or stage manager looking to work in Canada, the CAEA might be an organization worth joining. To become a member, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements. The requirements can vary depending on your field of work and experience level. The Canadian Actors’ Equity Association plays an important role in promoting the rights and interests of performers and stage managers in Canada. If you’re looking to build a career in the performing arts, it’s worth considering membership in this organization.

Learn more about the union at

The Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP)

As an actor or performer in British Columbia, you may be interested to know about the Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP). UBCP is the trade union that represents performers employed in film and television productions in British Columbia. They are also the British Columbia branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Performers Guild. They negotiate and enforce collective agreements on behalf of their members, which include actors, stunt performers, voice-over artists, and background performers

UBCP is dedicated to protecting the rights of professional performers to fair remuneration and fundamental respect for their craft and artistry. They provide a range of services to their members, including collective bargaining, contract administration, and dispute resolution. UBCP also advocates for the interests of performers on issues such as copyright, privacy, and freedom of expression.

If you are a professional performer working in British Columbia, you may want to consider becoming a member of UBCP. Membership can provide you with access to a variety of benefits, including health and dental coverage, pension plans, and professional development opportunities. UBCP can also help you navigate the industry and protect your rights as a performer.

How to become a member

To join The Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP), you can apply for membership by meeting their eligibility requirements. To join UBCP, you must have a certain amount of experience working as an actor or performer. Of course depending on the type of work you’ve done. The union requires that you have a certain number of credits in film, television, or commercials. And also a combination of those medium counts.

Once you have met the eligibility requirements, you can submit your application for membership to UBCP. Your application will be reviewed by their membership committee and they will inform you of their decision within a few weeks. If your application is successful, you will be invited to attend an orientation session to learn more about the benefits of membership and how to make the most of your membership with UBCP.

If you have any questions about becoming a member or about UBCP in general, you can contact their membership department for more information.

UBCP also offers a youth membership program for performers under the age of 18.

Learn more at their website

Which one to choose

As we already mentioned there are three main unions in Canada that represent performers. UBCP, ACTRA, CAEA, and let’s not forgot the one for our french speaking colleagues – Union des Artistes (UDA). UDA represents french speaking actors, you can learn more at their website It is important for you, as an actor, to research and compares all the options to determine which union or organization is the best fit for your needs and goals as a performer. It is also a good idea that actors attend information sessions or reach out to union representatives to learn more about membership requirements and benefits.

US Acting Unions

History of US Acting Unions

The history of US acting unions dates back to the early 20th century when actors were treated poorly by the studios. The first US acting union, the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), was founded in 1913 to represent stage actors. Later, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) were established to represent actors working in film, television, and radio.

Types of US Acting Unions

The two primary unions for actors are the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). SAG-AFTRA represents actors in film, television, commercials, and other broadcast media, as well as recording artists, stunt performers, and voice-over artists. On the other hand, AEA represents actors and stage managers in live theatrical productions, including Broadway shows, national tours, and regional theater productions.

All of these organizations and unions have one thing in common: they’re all working to support you and help you navigate the sometimes-crazy world of acting. So go ahead and take the stage, because you’ve got a whole team of characters behind you, making sure you’re taken care of every step of the way.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)

Let’s talk about the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, also known as SAG-AFTRA! SAG-AFTRA is a labor union that represents more than 160,000 actors, performers, journalists, and other artists working in the entertainment and news media. They work to protect their members while also promoting the general welfare of the industry they represent.

One of the things that SAG-AFTRA is focused on is ensuring that artificial intelligence applications are being used to support human creativity and accomplishment. You can learn more in their statement – here. They also provide important information to their members, like how to calculate residuals for TV and film projects and issue do-not-work orders to their members for productions that are not signatories.

SAG-AFTRA also hosts events like the SAG Awards and provides resources for actors and performers through their foundation. They negotiate for the best wages, working conditions, health, and pension benefits for their members and are dedicated to supporting those in the entertainment and news media industries. If you’re an actor or performer living in the USA, it’s definitely worth considering becoming a member of SAG-AFTRA to access their resources and support.

Learn more at

The Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)

As an actor or performer, you may have heard of The Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). This organization was founded in 1913 and represents over 51,000 professional actors and stage managers across the United States. AEA’s mission is to promote live theater as an essential part of society and to improve working conditions for its members by negotiating wages and providing benefits like health and pension plans.

If you’re a live performer appearing in stage productions without a book or through-storyline, such as vaudeville or cabarets, you may be represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) instead of AEA. However, if you’re working in live theater, AEA is the union you should consider joining.

Membership in AEA can be a great way to advance your career as a performer. In addition to negotiating fair wages and working conditions, AEA offers a range of resources and benefits to its members, including access to audition notices and casting calls, and opportunities for professional development. Overall, if you’re looking to take your career in live theater to the next level, joining AEA is definitely worth considering.

Learn more at

Which one to choose

if you’re an actor or performer looking to make it big in the USA, it’s important to remember that the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and The Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) aren’t the only unions out there. There are a variety of options available, and the right choice for you will depend on your unique needs and goals. So, whether you’re looking for health benefits or simply hoping to network with other actors, it’s always a good idea to do your own research and find the union that’s the right fit for you. With the right support and resources, you can make your dreams a reality and take your career to the next level!

Benefits of Joining an Acting Union

Joining an acting union can be a fantastic way to gain access to a wealth of benefits and opportunities. In this section, we will explore the top benefits of joining an acting union and why it might be a smart move for your career.

Job Opportunities

Acting unions are often closely involved with the entertainment industry, and they have connections that can help you find work. When productions are looking for actors, they often reach out to union organizations to help them find talent. Joining a union can help you get your foot in the door and land auditions for roles you might not have found on your own.

Fair Pay and Working Conditions

Acting unions’ primary goal is to ensure that they treat fairly and compensate properly the performers for their work. Unions negotiate with production companies to establish minimum pay rates, overtime rules, and other working conditions. This can help ensure that actors are paid fairly and have safe and comfortable working environments.

Health and Retirement Benefits

Many acting unions offer comprehensive health and retirement benefits to their members. This can include access to affordable health insurance, retirement savings plans, and other financial services. Joining a union can help you secure your financial future and protect your health and well-being.

Networking Opportunities

Joining an acting union can also give you access to a valuable network of contacts and resources. You can connect with other actors, agents, and casting directors who can help you advance your career. And maybe find new friends! This can also be a great way to stay into industry news and trends and know what’s going on.

Legal Support

Acting unions can provide legal support and representation to their members. If you ever encounter a legal issue related to your work as an actor, your union can help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights. This can be especially valuable if you are dealing with a dispute with a production company or other industry organization.


Unionized actors and performers often receive higher pay than non-unionized individuals, as they have the support of a collective bargaining agreement that sets minimum pay rates for their work. This can help ensure that actors are paid fairly for their time and talent, and can help prevent employers from taking advantage of them. Additionally, unions may negotiate for better working conditions, such as reasonable hours and safe working environments.

Drawbacks of Joining an Acting Union

As an actor or performer, joining a union can have many benefits, such as access to better wages, benefits, and protections in the workplace. However, it’s also essential to be aware of the potential drawbacks of joining an acting union, both in Canada and the USA. In the following section, we’ll explore some of the potential drawbacks to help you make an informed decision.

The Expense of Union Membership

One significant drawback of joining an acting union is the cost. Union dues can be expensive and may eat into your earnings. For instance, joining the SAG-AFTRA union in the USA requires a significant upfront fee, and members must pay annual dues. Additionally, union members are expected to contribute to various funds that support fellow members, such as the health and pension fund, which can also add up over time.

Limitations on Work Opportunities

Another potential drawback of joining an acting union is the limitations it can place on your work opportunities. Union rules like SAG-AFTRA’s Global Rule One only apply to union members, meaning that Fi-Core actors can technically accept both union and non-union jobs. However, this can be incredibly risky and may limit your opportunities for work. Additionally, certain jobs may be available only to non-union actors, and you may miss out on potential gigs.

Difficulty Finding Work

As finding work could be sometimes easier thru the union, sometimes it could be the opposite. Even though being a union member can provide access to better wages and benefits, it can also make it harder to find work, particularly for those starting their careers. Without recruitment, the union lacks a workplace majority and funding. Actors in right-to-work states may also find it harder to find work, as these states lack union prevention laws.

Risk of Union Strikes

Another potential drawback of joining an acting union is the risk of union strikes. While strikes are relatively rare, they can have a significant impact on your income and work opportunities. During a strike, union members are typically not allowed to work on projects covered by the union, which can be especially challenging for actors and performers who rely on steady work. Strikes can harm relationships with producers and directors and may lead to fewer opportunities in the future.

Joining an Acting Union

Joining a union as an actor or performer can be an important step in advancing your career. The process of joining a union involves several steps:

First, research the various unions available in your area, such as SAG-AFTRA or Equity, and determine which one(s) align with your career goals and qualifications.

Next, make sure you meet the qualifications for membership. Each union has its own requirements, such as a certain amount of professional experience or credits, so be sure to check that you meet these qualifications before applying.

Then, complete the union’s application process, which may include submitting proof of your professional experience or credits, as well as paying any required fees.

Finally, once you’ve been accepted into the union, you’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits it offers, such as access to union-only job opportunities and health insurance. Congratulations, you’re now a part of the union!


Well, well, well, my dear aspiring actors, performers, and colleagues! We’ve come to the end of our little journey through the wacky world of acting unions and organizations. And what a wild ride it has been! There are plenty of options out there, from SAG-AFTRA to ACTRA to AFTRA and beyond. Each union has its own set of rules and regulations, so be sure to read up and find the one that aligns with your goals and values as an actor or performer. You might be at a point where joining the union seems like the obvious next step, or you might want to wait a little bit longer before taking that leap. Either way, do your research and talk to others in the industry to get their thoughts and opinions.

I used to be against the idea of joining an acting union because I wanted the freedom to choose the roles I wanted to play and what projects to work on. But while researching for this article, I came across so many valuable resources that have convinced me otherwise. Now, I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to explore the possibility of joining a union and finding the right fit for me.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep pursuing your dreams and never give up. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, there’s a place for you in the wacky world of acting unions.

So go out there, break a leg, and remember – the sky’s the limit!

My dedication to achieving artistic excellence extends from the stage to the realm of film. Currently represented by agent Jill Kabush at Dorothy S. Management, I am actively pursuing opportunities to establish my presence in the industry. While my creative interests span a variety of fields, including DJing and illustrating, my primary passion lies in acting. In the Czech Republic, I gained experience as both an amateur and professional actor in theaters such as Moravian Theater Olomouc, Theater DiGoknu, and Mlada Scena II. I also ran my own production company, creating short films. Upon relocating to Canada, I underwent intensive training at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts. Since then, I have signed with an agent, showcased my talent in esteemed theaters like Theater Around The Corner, and participated in independent film projects. Through unwavering dedication and hard work, I continue to refine my craft, striving for new heights in the pursuit of artistic excellence.


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