BWW SPECIAL FEATURE: How I Got My Equity Card - By Martin Sheen

BWW SPECIAL FEATURE: How I Got My Equity Card - By Martin Sheen is proud to present its weekly feature, presented in association with and to celebrate the importance of the Actors' Equity Association. "AEA" or "Equity", founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 48,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members.

Check back weekly for new entries from stars of stage and screen on how they got their Equity cards!

BWW SPECIAL FEATURE: How I Got My Equity Card - By Martin Sheen"I began my acting career working for two of the most remarkable people in the American theatre: husband and wife team Julian Beck and Judith Malina, co-founders of The Living Theatre. The Becks, as they were affectionately known, were radical Jewish intellectual artists and pacifists deeply committed to peace and social justice through non-violent political activism and The Living Theatre was a clear reflection of their ideals for which they paid dearly with frequent arrests, incarcerations and fines.

I was 19 and fresh from Ohio when I joined this wonderful avant-garde company in December 1959 as a stage hand and general understudy (non-union at the start). Earlier that year Judith had directed their first huge hit, THE CONNECTION by Jack Gelber, which ran in repertory with TONIGHT WE IMPROVISE by L. Pirandello and there was plenty of other activity in the four story building that housed the theatre on 6th Avenue at 14th Street.

On Monday evenings when the theatre was dark, the Becks would present special programs of music, dance, poetry and unrehearsed readings of classic plays as well as full productions of one-act plays. It was quite common on any given Monday to see Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry, John Gage in concert or Merce Cunningham presenting a dance recital. I made my professional acting debut on one such Monday in 1960 appearing in PURGATORY, a one-act play by W.B. Yeats. By popular demand, it would seem, the play returned for four consecutive Monday evenings and I received $5.00 per performance (worth every penny I hasten to add, but still non-union).

The following year, The Living Theatre received a stunning request from the U.S. State department: an invitation to represent the United States as our country's official entry in the Theatre of Nations Festival in Paris. The Becks accepted the challenge and decided to take the full company with three plays in repertory and tour Europe culminating at the Festival in Paris. But, in order to do so, the entire company would have to join Actors' Equity under a special arrangement - and so it came to pass that I signed my first Equity contract in the spring of 1961 and made the first historic European tour with The Living Theatre. In addition to rave reviews and widespread acclaim across Europe, The Living Theatre won the Grand Prix in Paris and returned to New York in triumph!

I can never overstate the influence Julian and Judith have had on my formation as an actor and activist and my gratitude is deep and eternal. Sadly Julian passed in September of 1985. Judith then married Hanon Reznikow and courageously they have kept The Living Theatre alive to this at their new location, 428 West 49th Street. I am still a proud member of Actors' Equity thanks to the Becks."

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