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Why actors can still perform on Broadway during SAG-AFTRA strike

Actors are on the picket lines, but they can still tread the boards.

Author Maureen Lee Lenker

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players — except when it comes to strike rules.

On July 14, SAG-AFTRA officially went on strike, joining their fellow creatives in the WGA on the picket line. But Broadway (and theaters across the country) is still going strong, featuring many famous faces and SAG-AFTRA members (right now, Josh Groban in Sweeney Todd, Conrad Ricamora in Here Lies Love, Laurie Metcalf in Grey House, Eric McCormack in The Cottage, Alex Newell in Shucked, and Ben Platt in Parade are just a few of the SAG-AFTRA actors strutting their stuff on stage).

You might wonder why stage work is not included in the actors strike. The answer is simple — theatrical work in the United States is overseen and contracted by a different union, Actors’ Equity Association. Equity represents American actors and stage managers at theaters across the country with their membership totaling over 51,000.

Josh Groban in Sweeney, Conrad Ricamora in Here Lies Love, and Alex Newell in Shucked

Josh Groban in Sweeney Todd; Conrad Ricamora in Here Lies Love; Alex Newell in Shucked

| Credit: Joan Marcus; Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

As Equity states on its website: “Equity seeks to foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of society and advances the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans. Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions.”

Many actors belong to both SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity since they work both on film and television and in the theater. But the two unions, though they often share similar interests and members, are not one and the same. The current SAG-AFTRA strike is specifically for TV, theatrical (meaning theatrical release of feature films), and streaming, not for stage work, which is covered by a different set of contracts negotiated by Equity.

This might be especially confusing given that in the United Kingdom, actors are represented by Equity UK for stage, film, and television work. Additionally, though Equity UK released a statement standing in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA, they also made it clear that their members do not have the legal right to participate in the strike if they are working on an Equity UK contract due to separate labor law in the country (hence why House of the Dragon is still filming).

But the long and short of it is that actors, whether they are members of SAG-AFTRA or not, are free to perform in the professional theater — on Broadway or elsewhere. So while famous faces line the picket lines, you might also see them treading the boards (yes this means Daniel Radcliffe is still coming to Broadway in Merrily We Roll Along this fall).

As they say in the theater, the show must go on — and in this case, it’s free to do so.

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