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Combating Housing Discrimination – While Helping Actors Get Work!

October 30, 2009 Comments off

One of the core program areas that The Actors Fund works in is Employment & Training, where our goal is to help performing arts and entertainment professionals (performers and those behind-the-scenes) find fulfilling secondary work that complements their arts careers. This recognizes that entertainment work is episodic (for example, only 15% of actors work full time) and often doesn’t pay the bills.

The Actors Fund Work Program (AWP) uses career counseling, job training and job development to provides new options for finding rewarding work opportunities.

A current and hugely beneficial partnership is with The Fair Housing Justice Center, which approached The Actors Fund four years ago for help in staffing their testing program.

Testing is an investigative tool that has been used by civil rights organizations for decades to gather evidence of housing discrimination.  Testers are assigned to pose as prospective renters or buyers of real estate.  When comparably qualified testers are treated differently because of race, national origin, disability or another protected characteristic, this information can be used to corroborate a complaint of discrimination or challenge illegal discrimination in the housing market.

In answering FHJC’s request for actors (who clearly have skills perfectly matched to the needs of this type of testing) AWP Director Kathy Schrier and her staff identified more than 60 members of Actors’ Equity for this program. One 20 plus year member of Equity continues to act but also feels tremendously accomplished through his work as a Fair Housing tester.  As he says, “When I started this work I naively assumed that this big melting-pot city was more progressive than it is.  Because of my work as a tester one African-American family received a large monetary settlement; in another case I helped to prove that a family was denied an apartment lease because they had children.”

Another tester has had more than 15 years of  steady theatre work around the country as both an actor and stage manager.  She says, “I love the work I do with the FHJC because I love having an income-producing job that uses my skills and training as an actor.  I also love the knowledge that I am helping to do what is “right” – it shocks and appalls me to think that there are still people in the world who discriminate against others.”

For one actor his FHJC work complements his mission as an actor.  “As an actor I seek work where my character is fighting injustices, and I am is proud to be part of FHJC Testing Program,” he noted. “I believe that making a difference through acting by doing meaningful work like this is, ultimately, every actor’s goal.  I’m proud that FHJC, The Actors Fund and Equity have given me the opportunity to make a difference through this work.”

The Actors Fund Work Program also has partnerships with school systems in New York and Los Angeles, with private corporations, with the US Census and much more – all towards supporting our constituency of performing arts and entertainment professionals while supporting the communities where we live and work. For more information on The Actors Fund Work Program and The Fund’s programs in social services, health care and health insurance resources, emergency assistance and housing, you can visit www.actorsfund.org.

Joseph Benincasa
President and CEO,
The Actors Fund

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