The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) is a union of performers working in the Canadian entertainment industry. Currently, according to the union’s website, it is comprised of more than 23,000 performers working in Canadian TV, film, radio and digital media. Performers wishing to join the union start off as apprentice members and move on to become full members upon obtaining three permits or credit. The Medium spoke with Mike Stechyson, an Ottawa actor and a full member of ACTRA, who explained his journey with the union.
In February 2015, Stechyson met his current agent who encouraged him to join the union immediately. Stechyson explained that in the casting process for union jobs, there is an underlying assumption that actors employed by ACTRA are more professional. This means that casting directors will look at casting submissions in the following descending order of importance: full-members, apprentice members, and non-members. However, Stechyson admitted that despite this assumption, there are non-union jobs
“There’s a bit of a hierarchy in the casting process in terms of visibility,” said Stechyson. “As a full member, I’ve been getting more auditions than I was as an apprentice member.”
Around April 2016, after booking a TV series role on American Gothic, Stechyson went to the ACTRA office located on Church Street stating that he wanted to join the union. He then paid for his first permit and an apprentice card. After this, Stechyson was welcomed to the union and was sent an email with his temporary membership card.
“I worked in American Gothic in May 2016 and that was my first credit. Then, I hit the pause button for around ten months—not the pause button, I should say the mute button. [It was a period of] no auditions for ten months. Bu there was the occasional audition here and there,” said Stechyson.
In March 2017, on Stechyson’s birthday, he booked an actor role on CBS’ Salvation. He had to be on set two days later.
“I went to ACTRA, again. I told them I got the role, and I had to be on set two days later. So I said, ‘Here is $210, again, for my second permit.’ This is credit number two. At that point, I was one credit away from being a full member.[…] Then, I hit another hiatus. There was nothing for me at that time but taking acting classes, waiting for an audition, and training,” Stechyson continued, “In July or August, I started to get more [self-taped] auditions. […] My agent actually told me to send one in for a feature film shooting in Ottawa this past September. I got the role.”
The feature film Murdered at 17 was a principal role for Stechyson. A principal role, according to Stechyson, is a performing role with six lines or more.
“Then again, I go to ACTRA and I tell them that I need my third permit. Since it’s a principal role, I pay $260 for a permit,” said Stechyson. The process took Stechyson a little over a year to complete.
Stechyson notes that the road to obtaining a full membership with ACTRA is financially hefty. In total, Stechsyon spent around $1,600, not including the costs he has paid for three permits. There is also an annual fee that ACTRA members are subjected to.
In terms of his treatment on set as an ACTRA member, Stechyson said he received comparatively better treatment than on non-union sets. He explained that ACTRA members have rights on union sets. For instance, the ACTRA website states that members are entitled to “minimum rates of pay.”
“On non-union sets, it could be all bets are off. Sometimes, you’ll be on set for fifteen hours and it’s okay since it’s a non-union job,” Stechyson added as an example.
When I asked Stechsyon about his opinion on whether every actor should join ACTRA, he said that there were pros and cons to doing so. He clarified that by stating that there are mixed benefits to joining ACTRA, he is simply noting that such a choice depends on the situation of individual actors.
For Stechyson, an actor’s identity goes beyond his or her identification with a union. Stechyson commented that for him, acting is a lifestyle.
“It is a profession that so many people are investing their lives into,” Stechyson said, “so don’t take this job for granted. So much work goes into it. […] There is an art, science, and business behind being an actor. As actors, we’re storytellers. When you’re on set, you’re telling a story and it’s not as easy as you think it is.”
Stechyson’s appearance in the feature film Murdered at 17 is currently in post-production and will come out in March 2018.