“How I Got My Equity Card”
By: Brad Bradley
Nov 14th 2018
Getting your equity card is a rite of passage and a game changing moment. I always tell younger artists that getting your equity card does not make you more talented, but it does put you in the category of professional theatre actor, which was my goal. I think it’s up there with Broadway debut or performing on the Tonys, but is often a moment that gets glossed over. I was fortunate enough to get my equity card at the theatre I grew at, The Starlight Bowl in San Diego California (aka San Diego Civic Light Opera). I give Starlight and my performing arts high school complete credit for all my success*. I started working at Starlight when I was 14 and it quickly became my consistent summer job. It was summer stock at it’s finest, a 5 show season. Each summer I was cast in at least 2 shows, performing one at night and rehearsing the other during the day. Under the direction of Don and Bonnie Ward, I got better hands on education than any degree could provide. The theatre was an outside amphitheatre and was infamous for being under the flight pattern of the airport. Due to this, the onstage action “froze” when a plane flew overhead. In the pit there were three sets of three lights, similar to a traffic light. The yellow meant warning a plane was coming, red meant freeze and hold your position and the green meant continue with the scene. It may sound ridiculous, but it was a Balboa Park tradition. I pride myself with always being in the moment onstage and being aware of my surroundings. I think this experience has a lot to do with that.
I got my card for playing Andy Lee in 42nd St. It was directed and choreographed by Jon Engstrom, of the original Broadway cast. It was the second time I did the show for this same director; the first time I was 16 and was the first time I could drive myself to rehearsal. This time I was 21 years old and it was my 21st show for Starlight and I was becoming union. Normally Andy Lee doesn’t dance in all the ensemble numbers, but since Jon Engstrom knew that dancing was my forte, I got to do double duty. If I was asked to do that now I wouldn’t be as ecstatic, but back then I wanted to do it all.
I had already rehearsed with the company for a week before the equity actors arrived. It was always my favorite day when they showed up. Getting to work with actual professionals at such an early age was inspiring. Most of them came from Los Angeles, but occasionally we would get a New York actor in the cast. I was so open to learn from them, so when I was considered one of them and asked to go into the stage managers office for the first day equity meeting, I was beyond thrilled. What I remember most that day was realizing that due to a contract misunderstanding, I had worked the first week for free non union. I didn’t care, but our leading lady Darcie Roberts, jokingly said that I better get $200 worth of rubber put on my shoes. At the time, I had no idea what she meant. Now I prefer to wear and rent my own shoes when I work regionally and love getting them re-rubbered. The now defunct WCLO contact supported me throughout the majority of my college years. There was a stipulation that 2 of their contracts had to be pink chorus contracts. (I actually took time off from college to work in California theatre. I was contracted for West Side Story at Starlight when the theatre went bankrupt. My heart was broken but I ended up going back to USC and graduating. Fate has a funny way of working.)
For me becoming equity is more than just being able to get seen at certain auditions, it comes with protections. Shows close, contracts end, but my union is a constant. Do I agree with everything the union does, of course not, but do I believe they are looking out for my best interest? Absolutely. Since I became equity umpteen years ago, the insurance has gotten better, I have a 401k, I got supplemental income when I was out for an injury, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Young actors often ask me, “When is it time to get your card?” This answer is different for everyone. When I got mine, the only option was to be given your card. Now with EMC points and sister unions buy-ins, there are additional options. There is a lot more non-union work now than there was back then, but my goal was always Broadway and Broadway is equity. It’s an important decision that should be taken seriously, but it is a necessary step if your end game is a life in professional theatre. I have a podcast called Broadways Backbone that highlights the careers of Broadway Ensemble members (available on iTunes and Sound Cloud-shameless plug complete) the question of getting ones equity card is a frequent topic. I had the honor of working with our unions Vice President, Jen Cody, who celebrated the new members joining AEA on that contract. For the last 6 years I have continued that tradition on my regional contracts and let the new members know what an important step they are taking. I’ll always remember my first contract and freezing for the overhead planes, and I look forward to my future contracts in a career that is as much about passion as it is about success. I’m a proud member of Actors Equity Association. Brad Bradley
* Brad Bradley- Broadway credits include Billy Elliott, Spamalot, Annie Get Your, Thou Shalt Not, People in the Picture, Steel Pier and A Christmas Carol. 1st National Tour-Patsy in Spamalot. NYC/Off-Broadway-I am Harvey Milk, Chita: A Legendary Celebration, Ernest in Love. He has worked on AEA contacts spanning the USA from California to Maine to Florida.