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New Year, New Rules

A new year is upon us, and so last week, I attended my first EPA of 2017. For those non-actors among my readership, an ‘EPA’ stands for “Equity Principal Audition,” and refers to the required calls which theatrical productions are required to hold for any production under an Equity contract, and which are open to any member of the union (and any non-member who’s willing to put themselves on a wait list and stick around for the day in case an extra audition spot opens up). I’ve been going to these for many years now, and I’m familiar with the routine – arrive at the audition location, sign up for a time slot (assuming any remain), come back at the appointed time to do what you do. It’s always pretty much the same.

Except for last week, when everything was totally different. Not in terms of the audition itself, but in terms of the sign-up. The grid format of the old sign-up sheet was gone, replaced by this strange, linear layout. And the white index cards which were once given to us with our time slot, to be returned when we actually auditioned, were no more; there was pad for writing ourselves reminders if we wanted to, but by and large we were on an honor system.

The ultimate cause of these changes was something that was actually implemented last month, but which I hadn’t experienced firsthand until now. After years of discussion, online registration for the EPAs is now possible (it’s been implemented in other cities before now). It only applies to a portion of the audition slots, but we no longer have to trudge in at the crack of dawn to sign up for them – we can do so from the comfort of our home.

Or so I’m told. As with any innovation, there are all manner of unexpected consequences. One, as mentioned above, is that the various sign-in sheets are completely different now that they’re accommodating the print-outs for the on-line registrations. The other, of course, is that all of these on-line registration slots are taken about two minutes after registration goes live. So I’ve never actually signed up for these shiny new slots.

Naturally, there is a percentage of membership that says this is unfair, since if you don’t happen to be at your computer or mobile device at the moment a particular’s audition goes live, you won’t be able to grab an online audition slot. However, most of what I’ve seen of the discussion thus far centers around whether the time it goes live is the factor. At the moment, registration for a given audition goes live at noon, one week prior to the audition date. Debating whether it should go live at 9am or midnight instead implies that early birds or night owls are somehow inherently more deserving of an advance audition slot than folks who have a convenient noon lunch break.

And it’s this debate, this sense that a new system isn’t magically working as perfectly as it was envisioned, that may have led to the strangest unintended consequence of all. I only have anecdotal evidence for this, but my non-union friends have reported to me that it’s now easier for them to get seen as standby candidates at EPAs now that the online system is in place. You’d think the opposite would be true, since fewer slots should be available on the day of the audition. The likeliest explanation seems to be that Equity members, on realizing that the online slots are gone after 90 seconds or so, have grown discouraged and chosen not to come to the calls, even though there are slots available day-of as well, and non-members have been able to claim them as alternates.

(Or that it’s been too damn cold out. It’s been pretty cold the past few days.)

Does this mean that the improvements to the system have backfired? Or worse, is it all a sinister plan, a way of undermining member support for the EPA system so that it may be sneakily replaced at some point down the road?

Hard to say. 2017 only just started, after all.

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