When you see the ads and buy tickets for those musicals you’ve heard about touring from Broadway, you never know if the show has a cast of Equity actors – members in the union. But you still may be paying full price.

Actors’ Equity has been aiming to educate the consumer and protect its members with an “Ask If It’s Equity” campaign that today expanded to Washington and eight other cities. (It tested earlier in Chicago.) The website www.askifitsequity.com will allow visitors to check touring shows city by city, and the D.C./Baltimore market will be seeing a digital ad and Twitter effort.

It seems to be a pretty user-friendly site, with an easy-to-read list of the Equity and non-Equity shows heading to D.C. and to Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. Helpful hint: when you choose “Find An Equity Tour Near You,” be sure to scroll down far enough to pull up Washington (it’s hidden at first).

The Equity lines have blurred substantially and stirred tempers in recent years — how much, some members grouse, has Equity done to hold the line against non-union tours? — but we’ve undoubtedly hit a teachable moment in Washington. Set aside our local self-producing companies like Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theatre Company (big Equity groups) and smaller organizations like Synetic Theatre (non-Equity) – that’s local and non-profit. This year the Helen Hayes Awards have split largely along those boundaries, creating separate sets of prizes.

This new campaign is about Broadway tours – the big-name musicals. Commercially, the touring houses here are the Warner (typically non-Equity), the Kennedy Center (always Equity), and the National Theatre (both). The levels of Equity agreements have grown pretty labyrinthine and the gap has narrowed between certain union contracts and some non-Equity paychecks, but we can set all that aside for a longer exploration. What the Equity campaign is about is transparency: the consumer’s right to know what they’re getting for the price as they pony up for a Broadway title (where all the actors are Equity, of course). It seems hard to argue with that.