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MSU Tent Theatre Goes Equity

Missouri State University Tent Theatre opens its 46th season on June 11. Professionalism has always been a hallmark of the program, but starting this season it's official: MSU Tent Theatre has signed a contract with Actors Equity. KSMU's Randy Stewart has more.

MARK BIGGS (Acting head of the MSU Theatre and Dance Department):

Actors Equity is the professional organization that represents stage actors in the same way that Screen Actors Guild represents actors who are working in film and television, and is essential for work in many professional companies. In many professional theaters, you simply have to be a member of Equity in order to work there. Even in the audition process, Equity actors for Equity shows will have first priority. And so it's an enormously important and powerful body. This is a first, in fact a first for southwest Missouri, not only for Tent: this is the first contract that Actors Equity has struck with any theater company in southwest Missouri.

RANDY: Equity actors have worked in Tent Theatre before, but only through special "Letters of Agreement" with Equity. What does this mean now for Tent Theatre and for the student actors?

MARK BIGGS: I think it means a couple of things that are fairly important. First, it represents the next stage, if you will--it takes us to a professional-company standing. It will allow us to bring in Equity actors and an Equity stage manager--in fact, we're by contract required to do that. And for our students, that will give them a couple of opportunities: to work with professional Equity actors, to see how they operate, to learn from them, associate with them, to potentially even gain some later access through their personal connections with these actors. Every year we'll have a certain number of Equity actors and an Equity stage manager who will be associated with the Tent company. This season it'll turn out to be six Equity actors who will be in our shows. The other thing for our students that's enormously important is that they will be able to earn "EMC" (Equity Membership Candidacy) points. It takes 50 of these points to earn your Equity card--not that any of them will earn their card through Tent, but they will be able to go to auditions in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and around the country, where in these professional auditions, people who are Equity members are auditioned first; and then people who have EMC standing are auditioned second; and then everybody else! But it is a mark of how strong Tent has been, that Equity was willing to forego their one-year wait period rule for EMC status. Because we have been in operation for over 45 years now, they said, "We'll take a chance that you'll be around next year, and because of the reputation that you have in that part of the country, we'll go ahead and extend EMC credit to your students this year." And that is a true mark of the strength of Tent already. This will just take it to a slightly new, slightly more professional level, and it has meaning in terms of the professional theater world, to be an Equity company.