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HOW TO: Get into Actra (Without Really Trying)

This blog resource will focus on the four different ways you can gain Actra Apprentice status: The Traditional ‘Gig-Booking’ Approach, The Background ‘Back-Door’ Approach, The Graduate ‘Fast-Track’ Approach, and The Equity ‘Buy-In’ Approach.

Okay, so first off I should say that I lied about not ‘really trying’. Getting into Toronto’s Film/TV Actor’s Union is no easy process. There is effort and protocol involved, but what I’ve put together for you here is a resource that you can use if you are at all interested in becoming a union performer in film and television.

OVERVIEW | THE TRADITION ‘GIG-BOOKING’ APPROACH | THE BACKGROUND ‘BACK-DOOR’ APPROACH | THE GRADUATE ‘FAST-TRACK’ APPROACH | THE EQUITY ‘BUY-IN’ APPROACH | A SMALL WORD OF WARNING | RESOURCES


OVERVIEW

If you read my last HOW TO on becoming a background actor, you might have read about some of the benefits that Actra Background Performers get over non-union performers. These benefits include a huge jump in pay-scale (from around $11/hour to close to $25/hour), better food on set, preferential treatment, etc. There is a very secure system set in place to make performers lust for the opportunity to gain union status.

The benefits of gaining Actra affiliation extend further than just the background experience. Becoming a union member allows you to be a part of what the film industry considers to be the professional league of performers. Most productions shot in Toronto choose to go union and follow their rules because the system is set in place to protect both the performer and producer from potential glitches. Union performers are bound to a certain obligation of professionalism that Actra strictly enforces. However, on the flip side, Actra ensures that all its performers are paid according to their pay-scale and treated with the utmost respect when working.

There are two levels of membership with Actra (much like with Equity): APPENTICE MEMBER and FULL MEMBER. To become a full member, one must have 3 credits (or permits to work) on any union set with ‘principle’ or ‘actor’ status. That means that you actually have lines to say and a character name (so this does not include background engagements). When you have received three credits (having booked three gigs) you can apply to have your apprentice membership upgraded to full member status. There are various benefits that are received once this jump has been made (in pay-scale, medical and dental, RRSPs, voting rights, etc.) However, being an Actra Apprentice is a foot in the door in the right direction if you are set on becoming a professionally recognized film actor in Toronto.

This blog resource will focus on the four different ways you can gain Actra Apprentice status: The Traditional ‘Gig-Booking’ Approach, The Background ‘Back-Door’ Approach, The Graduate ‘Fast-Track’ Approach, and The Equity ‘Buy-In’ Approach.

THE TRADITIONAL ‘GIG-BOOKING’ APPROACH

This is the way most performers gain their Actra affiliation. A union production can hire a non-union performer if they can prove to Actra that the non-union performer is the best casting for the role. That is why non-union actors are sent to auditions for union productions.

Now, let’s say you kicked ass at the audition and your agent calls you a few days later. She is bubbling with pride at you having booked the gig. After the celebratory night of excessive drinking, your next step would be to contact Actra and purchase a work permit (see permit costs below). These permits allow the non-union performer to work on a union set. This permit is also your ticket into Actra as an Apprentice Member; book two more union gigs and you’re set with Full Member status. Please note, however, that buying the permit does not make you an Actra Apprentice right away. You must keep your permit, work your gig and return to The Actra Membership Office with permit in hand and apply to become an Apprentice. At this point you will fill out several forms requiring copious amounts of information and your headshot. Then you are in. Congrats!

PERMIT COSTS (By production agreement)
Independent Production Agreement (Film/TV) | Principle = $260 | Actor = $210
Commercial Agreement | $420.50

THE BACKGROUND ‘BACK-DOOR’ APPROACH

If you choose to become a background performer and find yourself working a lot of booking engagements, there is a way for you to gain Actra Apprentice status without having booked a union gig and buying a permit.

First things first: After having worked more than 24 days of work on set as a background performer, you can register with Actra as an ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND PERFORMER. This does not give you union affiliation, but it does get you into the Actra database.

Second (and this is the hard part): You must work 200 days on set as a background performer (or clock 1600 hours on set) within 4 years. While doing so, you must keep each voucher received on set to prove the amount of days or hours worked.

Third: Take your collected vouchers to The Actra Membership Office and having proved the days/hours worked, you will be given the opportunity to register with Actra as an Apprentice Member. The cost for this registration is $75.

Yes, this is a lengthy way of getting in, but it is doable. I have seen several individuals work their way through background, gain membership and are now making much more money (by doing practically the same thing, mind you… wasting away in background holding). This approach is totally possible if you plan on working background a lot, and by the looks of it, there will be enough background work to go around this summer.

THE GRADUATE ‘FAST-TRACK’ APPROACH

This is a fairly new addition to Actra’s rulebook. An actor can buy their initial registration, for $75, to gain Apprentice Membership if they can prove that they graduated from a recognized actor training institution. I have provided a list of Actra recognized institutions below. If you don’t see your attended institution on the list, contact Actra and see if your training counts for apprentice membership.

Here’s the stipulation: You must register as an Actra Apprentice Member within 60 days of having graduated. Yes, this is kind of a shitty stipulation if you are reading this and are past the 60 day blip of time (which can happen while you blink). That being said, Actra Membership can be contacted and you can state your case with them. There have been occasions where Actra has granted admittance despite being over the time restriction. It’s always worth a try.

ACTRA RECOGNIZED ACTOR TRAINING INSTITUTIONS
Brock University | Canadian Film Centre | George Brown College | The University of Guelph | Humber College | Niagara College | Queen’s University | Ryerson University | Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology | Sheridan College | University of Toronto | University of Waterloo | University of Windsor | York University

THE EQUITY ‘BUY-IN’ APPROACH

It is quite possible that you are a theatre performer and have booked your first gig in an Equity production. If so, you have gained membership to Canadian Actor’s Equity Association and receive several benefits in that regard. However, you may be like most Canadian actors and want to pursue work in various mediums (i.e. film and television). If that is the case, there is a buddy-system between Equity and Actra to reduce the costs and ease the effort of an Equity affiliated performer seeking to gain Actra status. It should be noted that this system only applies to individuals with FULL Equity status.

If you have gained FULL Equity status and have the paperwork to prove it, you can mosey on down to The Actra Membership Office and apply to become a FULL Actra Member. That’s right FULL. Actra recognizes the legitimacy of Equity and as such, grants Full Equity Members the right to become a Full Actra Member without the Apprenticeship.

Another nice little thing about this approach is that the cost to become a Full Actra Member is subsidized since the applicant has already paid a silly amount for their Full Equity Membership. The subsidized amount is $450 – a far cry from the full amount.

A SMALL WORD OF WARNING

Becoming an Actra Apprentice is a stepping stone to full membership and if you want to be seen as a professional in Toronto’s Film Industry, membership is required. Having an Actra affiliation on your resume is a very good thing when it comes to submitting to agents. Agents will see this and know that you have proven yourself in auditions in a way that has allowed you to book gigs and receive good compensation for your work. Agents like knowing that you can book gigs and they really like to know that you can make money; because if you make money, they make money… and that’s the bottom line.

However (and here’s the warning), becoming an Actra Apprentice forbids you from working on ANY non-union set. This small little detail is the reason why there is much discussion amongst actors about when is a good time to seek union status. There is a lot of good non-union film work to be had out there and it is from that work that an emerging actor can find great material for his/her demo reel. It is on those non-union sets where you can learn from doing, and if you don’t know exactly what’s happening, the non-union set is a good place to find out. Union sets have certain expectations that those cast to be there have a full understanding of the industry and how things work. Actors are expected to exist as professionals and are therefore treated (and paid) as such.

The other thing about starting your climb into the union is this: the insane cost. I’ve already mentioned the costs of purchasing work-permits, and when you collect three, you can apply for full membership. However, that full membership registration has a huge cost as well, $1600 minus what you paid for your permits. This often amounts to around $400-$600 depending on the agreement for which your permit was purchased. Then, after gaining full membership status, you have the joy of paying your $195 dollars a year for dues and a hefty percentage of your paycheck for each gig worked. This all adds up, of course, but it is the cost we pay as actors to be recognized by our community as professionals. The system isn’t broken is it?

My personal opinion is this. If you are new to this industry or if you haven’t gone to an actor’s training institution then I would suggest that you take the time to see what all this acting business is about, because it is a business and there is money to be made. Audition for non-union films and see what happens. Work for free if you have to. Learn what you need to learn to make an educated choice to be seen as a professional actor.

However, if you have gone through a 3 or 4 year training programme, or you have been in this industry for a while, then I’d suggest that a serious look at gaining union membership status is entirely appropriate. At this point it requires you to look at yourself and say “Yes, I am a professional actor. I paid for my training, and now it is time to make the money that I deserve, because I am good, I am talented, and I will prove it.” It is a big step, but it is necessary at some point.

RESOURCES

ACTRA TORONTO | www.actratoronto.com

Office Location: 625 Church Street, 1st and 2nd Floors Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2G1
Telephone: 416.928.2278 Toll-free: 1.877.913.2278 Fax: 416.928.2852
Membership email: membership@actratoronto.com Other inquiries: info@actratoronto.com
Hours:
9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday to Friday


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Caleb McMullen

Written by Caleb McMullen

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheatreisforSuckers.com

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