From 2009 through 2011, I served as a member of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee and one of my co-nominators was Joe Benincasa, the president and CEO of The Actors Fund. While I’d been aware of The Fund for years, I learned so much more about The Fund’s work from my conversations with Joe. As we talked, we both grew interested in how we could work together to make sure everyone in our nation’s theatre community knows The Fund’s free and confidential services are available to them. So when Joe recently asked me to join The Fund’s Board, I jumped at the chance. I am honored to bring TCG’s voice to their table, and to become a part an organization that has such a wonderful history of helping people in performing arts and entertainment.
The Actors Fund was founded in 1882 by industry leaders who recognized the need for an organization that would help entertainment professionals when they were down on their luck. Back then, if you worked in the theatre you were considered “low class”, and finding any kind of assistance when you needed it was next to impossible – it was even difficult for theatre people to receive a proper burial when they died. (That’s why one of the first things The Fund did was purchase space at Brooklyn’s Cemetery of the Evergreens in 1887, to ensure our colleagues could rest in peace with dignity. The Fund still has that plot, as well as a newer one in Westchester’s Kensico Cemetery.)
Since then, The Actors Fund has grown into a national non-profit that offers an array of programs and services for everyone working in entertainment – not just actors! From dancers to stagehands, playwrights to costumers, The Fund is there for all professionals working in the performing arts and entertainment in times of need, crisis or transition. In 2012 alone, The Fund came to the aid of 13,523 individuals and distributed more than $2.8 million in emergency financial assistance.
What exactly does The Actors Fund do?
- It offers comprehensive range of free, confidential social service programs designed to help people address the many challenges faced by people in our industry, which includes things like counseling by licensed clinical social workers, practical help, emergency financial assistance, and more.
- The Fund provides a number of heath care and insurance services, including The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC, which provides information on accessing affordable health insurance via nationwide seminars and online resources), and provides free healthcare at The Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic (Manhattan’s only full-time free health clinic) and Los Angeles’s Performing Artists’ Medical Clinic (a collaboration with MusiCares and Venice Family Clinic).
- The Actors Fund Work Program (AWP) provides seminars, groups, and one-on-one counseling to help people identify and find fulfilling secondary employment, or even assist with a career transition.
- The Fund also helps ensure artists have access to affordable housing, and maintains three buildings for people working in the industry: The Schermerhorn in Brooklyn, The Dorothy Ross Friedman Residence in Manhattan, and The Palm View in West Hollywood. Their Housing Development Corporation is also working to develop more opportunities for affordable, supportive and senior housing.
And The Fund also cherishes the senior members of our community. The Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, NJ has been a part of The Fund’s history since 1902. The Home is a state-of-art assisted living and skilled nursing facility for everyone who has dedicated their lives to entertainment. In fact, U.S. News and World Report recently recognized The Home as among the best nursing homes in the country.
I encourage you to visit www.actorsfund.org to learn more their work, and how important this organization is to our arts community. I’ll be sure to keep you posted here, as well, as The Actors Fund’s work goes hand-in-hand with TCG.