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Actors’ strike reminds us that actors are people, too

Over the past few months, the American actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), has been on strike. This has affected the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) and the Canadian ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) members as well.

SAG-AFTRA and ACTRA are sister unions. Erika Rosenbaum, an actor from the Chateauguay Valley, explains that “We want to act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the border.” ACTRA’s contracts are up in 2024, and negotiations will soon be happening in Canada too.

Another actor and Valley native, Sarah Booth, shares that “I felt super proud when we went on strike.” Being a SAG-AFTRA member herself, she was glad to support her fellow artists and take a stand for a common goal, even if it meant that work was paused for a while. She says, “It felt like we were taking the power back.”

 

Actor and Valley native Sarah Booth PHOTO Courtesy of Sarah Booth

 

Some of the strike demands surround AI (creation by artificial intelligence) and clarifying the rules about consent for using a person’s image. Another important factor was fair compensation for streaming views; a minimum compensation increase over the next few years was agreed upon.

For Rosenbaum, the strike came right when she was about to enter a new phase of her career. After taking it slower for 13 years while raising her children, her hope was that with her youngest now in school, she could jump back in at full speed. Not only does this strike affect her, but also three of her four children who are already successful actors. Throughout the strike, the family has been doing English dubbing for foreign films. “It’s very technical. You have to be very ‘’on” when you’re acting,” she says.

Booth managed to work shooting a CBC show called Plan B and a Hallmark movie called Our Christmas Mural during the strike. Booth’s husband is a filmmaker, so his work also took a bit of a pause; however, since he works as an independent company, he was able to film in Canada with Canadian artists who were not SAG-AFTRA members. Booth sympathizes with anyone in production, saying, “I feel so bad for our crews, because they were not on strike, but they were not working at all.”

 

Erika Rosenbaum and her son Jack at a movie premiere Three out of four of her children are working actors and her youngest is also expressing interest PHOTO Courtesy Erika Rosenbaum

 

Just regular folks

There is a misconception that all working actors are millionaires and don’t need to be striking. Rosenbaum reminds folks that “Most of us are not the wealthy kind of actors; we’re just regular folks doing our best.” Actors are simply asking to be paid fairly for their art, especially when it can be consumed for years without them seeing any pay for it. “It is bonkers that a show you were on ten years ago will be played hundreds of thousands of times on a streaming service and sometimes I’m getting residuals for 69 cents… How are you supposed to raise a family on that kind of money?”

Booth explains that SAG-AFTRA has 170,000 members, and to qualify for health care in the union you have to be making about $26,000 per year acting. Only 12.7 per cent of members hit that quota. “The first time I booked one of my big jobs, I would run into people, and they would say ‘Oh my god, you’re rich!’ and I would explain that ‘I’m really not – I just paid a quarter of my credit card off’,” she recalls. She acknowledges that there are some people making buckets of money, but the average actor is not in that “one per cent” of the film industry’s elite. “Why are all of these people working so hard for executives to get these bonuses and buy their third yacht, while they can’t even afford to pay their rent?” she asks.

The strike officially came to an end on November 8. Actors who are SAG-AFTRA members are encouraged to vote “yes” to this new agreement by December 5.

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