Actors Equity Executive Director Mary McColl. (Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity, will step down from her position after the expiration of her contract in January 2022, the union announced Tuesday. 

McColl, who started in the role in 2011, has been leading the union’s negotiations with the Broadway League and other producers across the country and guiding the 51,000-member union through the theatrical shutdown. The announcement comes after a year of strife within Actors’ Equity, as members have spoken out against the union’s COVID-19 regulations and called for greater financial transparency from union leaders and better protection of members who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color through protests and petitions. 

Additionally, like other theatrical unions, the Equity-League Health Fund — which is managed by a board of trustees comprised of Equity and League appointees — is facing a shortfall due to the lack of funds contributed by producers during the theatrical shutdown. That meant that during the pandemic Equity members had to work more weeks to earn health coverage, or were liable to lose coverage.

The union’s national council will create a search committee to find a new executive director. 

McColl did not give a reason for departing the role, but said she would see the union through the reopening of the industry.

“My hope is that Equity will cast a wide net for their next executive director so that historically marginalized members will see themselves reflected in staff leadership. While the search is ongoing, there is much work left to do,” McColl said in the press release. “The staff and I are committed to working through re-opening to make sure that members return to a workplace where they not only feel safe, but that the culture begins to change so everyone feels they belong.”

In her tenure, McColl helped create the union’s first national convention and worked with union leaders to change Equity’s dues structure in order to help stabilize its finances. She spearheaded union negotiations, including the 2019 negotiations and subsequent actors’ strike over lab contracts, which resulted in profit sharing for Equity members.

“Mary is not just an extremely tenacious and strategic contract negotiator. She is also deeply committed to the principle that theatrical professionals are both artists and workers, and deserve the dignity and protections of employment as compensation for our work,” Actors’ Equity President Kate Shindle said in the press release. “Over the last year, Mary has literally worked around the clock on our extremely challenging efforts to keep actors and stage managers safe during the pandemic, and that work has continued as we now reopen the industry more broadly.”

She is also on the board of the Actors Fund and the Tony Awards Administration Committee. She is a vice president on the board of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO.

McColl took over the role from Equity staff member Carol Waaser, who was appointed as acting executive director after John Connolly decided not to seek a second contract as executive director. Connolly took over the role in 2007, following the sudden death of executive director Patrick Quinn.