Don’t expect an actors strike to keep J. Smith-Cameron from acting. As the SAG-AFTRA work stoppage formally announced on Thursday loomed, the Succession star told VF that she was preparing to return to her first love. “I’m looking at some theater things,” she said. “I’m just trying to think of plays I’ve always wanted to do.”
Theater actors, of course, aren’t represented by the Screen Actors Guild; they belong to a separate union, the Actors’ Equity Association. That means that even when they’re barred from performing in certain onscreen roles—the ones governed by the TV and theatrical contracts that expired Wednesday at midnight—SAG-AFTRA members are free to participate in live theatrical productions. And theater isn’t the only exception.
As SAG-AFTRA’s website explains, the union negotiates several different kinds of contracts. Under the terms of this strike, all SAG work that isn’t theatrical, TV, or for streaming platforms like Netflix and Apple TV+ (which falls under the umbrella of TV and theatrical contracts) is fair game.
Now that the strike is on, SAG has shared a specific list of rules with its members. Though acting, singing, dancing, performing stunts, or even auditioning for films and TV shows is out, union work in commercials, music videos, corporate/educational videos—good news for Better Call Saul star Jonathan Banks!—and news broadcasts is permitted. Union work on morning shows, talk shows, the three remaining network soap operas, variety shows, reality shows, game shows, and sports programs will be allowed as well, since all those media are covered under a separate contract called the Network Television Code. This loophole also means the late-night programs that have been shut down since May due to the writers strike could potentially return to the air despite the SAG strike, albeit without writers—as some did in 2007, during the last writers strike.
SAG-negotiated voiceover work for animated projects, video games, and dubbing is more of a gray area. SAG insiders indicate that these sorts of contracts may be permitted as well, but say union members can’t move forward with such projects without approval from SAG-AFTRA’s national board.
Sources also indicate that exceptions can also be made for “truly independent projects”—ones not produced, financed, or distributed by the studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP. Podcast and audiobook work that doesn’t fall under the SAG-AFTRA umbrella is presumably permitted as well.
What won’t be permitted is promotion of work done under TV and theatrical contracts—which means that as long as the strike continues, actors won’t be able to boost their film and television work through photo shoots, interviews, social media posts, or press of any kind. They won’t be able to attend premieres or awards shows, either. There, too, a few exceptions may be made, as Natalie Jarvey and Joy Press wrote earlier this week: “Performers would be allowed to appear at events like Comic-Con for career-related panels that don’t promote a current project. Charity events and the receipt of lifetime achievement awards would also be permissible, as long as actors aren’t photographed in front of corporate logos on the red carpet.” Actors who produce projects will be allowed to do press as producers, but not as actors.
All of which means it may be quite a bit longer before we hear J. Smith-Cameron discuss her work on Succession again—unless you happen to catch her at the stage door this summer.