Making the Decision to Join SAG

You’ve finally become eligible to join SAG, whether through a principal contract, background waivers or the backdoor in through another union. Congratulations! But now you have to decide if now is the right time for you to join SAG.

You may be looking at your computer screen as if I’m insane right now. “Why wouldn’t I want to join SAG?” you ask. If you’re back-dooring in through another union (AEA or AFTRA) or are already a member of another union, there’s no not to join SAG now, so skip the rest of this article and visit the SAG website for what you need to know to get it done.

If you are not, however, a member of any acting union at this time, you need to seriously consider whether this is the right moment in your career to become a member of SAG. One of your most important responsibilities as a SAG guild member is to adhere to Global Rule One, which requires that SAG members not take any non-union work, anywhere in the world, at any time. This applies not just to work governed by SAG, but also to work under the jurisdiction of SAG’s three sister unions, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Actors Equity Association (AEA) and American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), who together with SAG make up the Associated Actors and Artists of America.

That means, that if you choose to join SAG, and are not an AEA member, you can no-long do non-AEA shows. This limits your work to auditioning for roles under AEA contract (challenging if you’re not AEA) and participating in AEA showcases. The AEA showcase code is, however, relatively easy to comply with, and many shows that would otherwise be non-union do perform under it. It is sometimes even possible to convince a production to apply to be an AEA showcase in order to accommodate a guild member. As there are less ways to work non-union under AFTRA and AGMA (and many actors never wind up working under AGMA at all), all of this is less of an issue, but joining SAG will eventually probably necessitate that you join AFTRA, and you’ll want to join AEA when you can.

So, the questions you need to ask yourself are these:

– Is there enough SAG work in my area to make joining SAG financially and professionally worthwhile?

– Is there enough stage work available to me being done under AEA contract or showcase code?

– Do I anticipate meeting the requirements to join AEA (and possibly AGMA or AFTRA) soon?

– Is my resume developed enough that I no longer need non-SAG work to help flesh it out?

Finally, there is one more options for you to consider, which is becoming a “Financial Core” member of SAG. This requires you to pay most of the initiation fee and the like, but omits your from parts of both SAG’s rules and benefits. It allows you to work as SAG and audition for SAG roles, but it also allows you to take non-union work. However, being a Financial Core member of SAG also excludes you from many of the benefits of SAG, you do not get a SAG card, and you are not required to be treated as SAG on a project where both Union and non-union workers are booked. Being a SAG financial Core member can sound like a good compromise, but it can be an awkward position. Many people become SAG members and later go to Financial Core status in order to do independent projects or non-SAG projects abroad later in their more established careers.

Once again, congratulations and good luck with this difficult decision.

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