Being a performer isn’t easy. The life is full of insecurity, risks, and defying convention. Actors, singers, dancers, and musicians often have to eschew conventional measures of success to pursue their chosen profession. Certainly, our society is not designed to support working artists much less take care of artists after the work is done or when the work is slow. That’s why groups like The Actors Fund is so necessary.
Founded in June 1882, it provides assistance to actors and their families including healthcare, disability support, career services, financial planning, housing assistance, and eventually elder care, senior housing, and burial assistance. One of the most famous and oft utilized programs is the Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund, which has been providing assistance for artists to purchase shoes for auditions since 1945.
Currently, Tony Award-winning actor and singer Brian Stokes Mitchell is Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund, which includes the likes of Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Actors’ Equity President Kate Shindel, producer Harold Prince, and B.D. Wong among its members. Led by Joseph Beincasa, The Actors Fund supports actors directly while also advocating for policy changes at the local, state, and national level. Their “every artist insured” initiative, for example, seeks solutions to the challenge of actors finding and keeping medical insurance through long periods of unemployment or career transition. They support and nurture emerging artists as they make their way in New York City. The Actors Fund serves as a friendly resource in a big and often lonely city.
The fund, just as with many benevolent organizations, supports its work through annual memberships and donations. However, due to its unique industry focus, The Actors Fund is also able to benefit from the amazing work of professional actors to both fundraise and increase awareness. You can support The Actors Fund just by attending a Broadway show (check out the upcoming benefit performances here). Additionally, The Actors Fund will produce benefit concert productions that have become wildly successful. Their production of Hair was even recorded and is available to stream or purchase.
I think about the actor’s life frequently. In fact, this week I had the opportunity to return to New York and visit with friends I made during the run of a show I performed at the Algonquin Hotel. 10 years on, we have all had to make different choices regarding our work in theatre. Some of us have stayed committed to making a living exclusively from theatre. Others, like myself, have made choices to support different priorities in our lives. Theatre people do what they have to in order to survive in the work they do because the work is so important to them. A lot of people, most people, can’t understand what would drive someone to such extremes, but artists do it every day, driven by conviction about the work they can and must do.
The Actors Fund makes that work possible. It provides actors with an amount of security in a turbulent world that can kick you while you’re down one day and leave you elated and financially empowered the next. Importantly, The Actors Fund has also helped over 100+ years to slowly and persistently tear away the stigmas against actors. The work that actors do is essential to a functioning and empowered society. In order to strengthen our communities, we must take care of our artists, and The Actors Fund does that.