Imagining New Suns: Part II by Amara Brady
This article is part II in a series of articles by Amara Brady. Click here to read part I before you delve into part II.
From the moment I started acting, I was very aware that there was always someone there to replace me. It began in preschool. I vividly remember winning the lead role of Harriet Tubman in our Black history month musical, only to be replaced by one of my friends who wasn’t crippled by stage fright. I now understand why it happened the way it did, but when I was a child it was a simpler understanding... I was replaceable. It’s a story, a myth we are consistently fed as actors. Today I’d like to talk with you about the myths sold to actors, and how we actors are doing ourselves a disservice by buying into them. It is so pervasive that it breeds within us ideas of scarcity that keep us from speaking out about mistreatment, helps us justify taking less than what we are worth, and keeps us focused on ourselves instead of our community.
An individual mindset of scarcity is in direct opposition to community. Scarcity is defined as the state of being scarce or in short supply; shortage. The word itself is entirely too close to scary for my liking and I know why we buy into it. We want to make a living in this field. We want to be a joy to work with; but I will tell you, I personally cannot be a joy to work with when I feel like I’m being treated like the poop on the bottom of someone's shoe.
A few years ago, before I joined the union, I was cast in a show in which things were bad, to say the least. Let me paint you a picture: The five people who were Equity members were all white and cis-gendered. The four of us who were non-union made up most of the marginalized people in the show. There was no pay equity, no transparency on the lack of pay equity, shady contracts, and so many other issues. Most unnerving of all were the instances when the company made decisions with Equity members explicitly excluding non-union members about the most basic rights that humans should be given. Most shockingly, they decided to add shows to our run after contracts were signed. As non-equity members, we had no say in the matter, despite the fact that we would not be paid for the extra shows. It wasn’t a problem until it became clear that no one but the theatre company would receive more money.
As someone who considered themselves a future member during the run of the show I previously mentioned, I can’t tell you how hurt I was and how stupid I felt for thinking that the Union members would want to protect and help those of us who weren’t able to help ourselves. Scarcity is dangerous for both emotional reasons, like I experienced, and practical reasons. Specifically, it undermines collective bargaining power (which is the whole point of Unions, Guilds, etc.). In No Going Back: A Covid-19 Cultural Strategy Activation Guide for Artists and Activists there is a quote I keep coming back to, “We are only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk.” All actors are only as safe as our non-union peers. All of us are at risk and we must use whatever leverage we have as union members, as friends of the people in positional power, etc. to make sure that everyone is at the very least treated in an equal fashion if not an equitable one.
I know you’re thinking,
Amara, membership has its privileges and this is one of them.
My response is two fold:
The privilege of membership is the ability to protect yourself and your peers. If you got into this for oppression, wtf?
Is it worth your morals? Is the little bit of extra money you may receive worth the exploitation you’re allowing to happen on the backs of your fellow actors?
If your answer is yes, then I’m really surprised you’re reading this. It is a privilege that we get to tell stories and do what we love, but it is not a privilege to be mistreated. Those two things are not mutually exclusive! People shouldn’t have to tolerate pay inequity, sexual harassment, racism or anything akin to these behaviors in order to be an actor. That is not the job and the sooner we divide ourselves from the belief that it is, the better off we’ll be.
To change the world we have to dismantle the abuse and exploitation of all people and not consider it the terms and conditions of doing what we love. This is a small way you can remind yourself to advocate for your peers. There are so many other issues, most of which I haven’t found answers for (i.e. How do we ensure that stage managers are receiving the same work benefits and breaks when they arrive before everyone, leave after everyone else, some instances leaving them unable to have dinner breaks?)
I think the work of prioritizing our communities begins with the work of prioritizing ourselves by undoing all of the things we were previously taught about being replaceable. None of us are replaceable because no two people do the work in the exact same way. The myth of the unicorn is in fact true, though it may not work the exact way we have purported it to. Our work as actors is special and what we have to offer is unique and necessary to creation. We are not replaceable.
Amara (She/Her/Hers) is a generative artist & cultural dramaturg from Chicago. At the crux of her artistry is uplifting Black women and connecting underserved communities to theatrical experiences. She’s currently in Residence with Experimental Bitch Presents and The Parsnip Ship and created her own production company (Un)Solicited Productions. As an actor she’s been on stage at The Lark, Joe’s Pub, Barrington Stage Co., NYTW, 54 Below, & others. She’s a member of Joe Iconis’ & family As a writer she has been been a semi-finalist for Space on Ryder Farm, an inaugural member of the Showdogs playwriting collective, The Parsnip Ship’s Radio Roots Writers Group, and a member of SHECreates NYC’s Myths and Legends program. Her work has been staged at The Drama League, The Dramatists Guild, Joe’s Pub, and The Wow Cafe Theatre. As a producer she helped put on Theatre Communications Groups National Conference (2019) and was the Associate Producer of the NYT’s Critic Pick, SKiNFoLK by Jillian Walker. Check out her YouTube Series, ‘Skinny & White’ Aren’t Character Traits. In This Paper I’ll Explain. She wants to remind you to resist, check your privilege, & then give some space to Women of Color & Trans Folx. Ashé to the ancestors. All Power to all people.