Canadian Actors’ Equity is the professional association of performers, directors, choreographers, fight directors and stage managers in English Canada who are engaged in live performance in theatre, opera and dance. Recognizing that the arts are vital to life and that artists make an important contribution to our society, the association supports the creative efforts of its members by seeking to improve their working conditions and opportunities. The business of Equity is to negotiate and administer collective agreements, provide benefit plans, information and support, and act as an advocate for its membership.
For many years, exploitation in the theatre was a condition of employment, and there were no standard agreements. Dismissal was possible without cause or notice, and productions could suddenly close with no payment to the artists. In May 1913, a group of actors in New York drafted a constitution for the first Actors’ Equity Association. It took six years of fighting and a thirty-day strike in 1919, led in part by Canadian actor Marie Dressler, before the theatre managements finally recognized Equity as the actors’ rightful bargaining agent. Another strike in 1960 won the right of a pension for actors. By 1954, professional theatre in English Canada was coming into its own to the point where there was enough activity to justify a Canadian Equity office. On February 13, 1955, the Canadian Executive Committee held its first official meeting. It represented fewer than 200 artists. In 1976, after an amicable separation, Canadian Actors’ Equity Association became a completely separate organization, operating under its own constitution and by-laws. Today it represents more than 5,000 active members from coast to coast. In Saskatchewan, Equity members are engaged in professional theatre, dance and opera at the Globe theatre, Opera Saskatchewan, Persephone theatre and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. In 1998, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Canada’s first, Equity met in Saskatoon—the first national members meeting outside of Toronto.