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Meet Our Healthcare Services Team!

May 31, 2012 Comments off

Our knowledgeable and dedicated staff at The Actors Fund‘s Artist Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC) continues to accomplish a stunning amount of work, research, and advocacy for the countless individuals hoping to demystify the mysteries of health insurance–especially when it comes to people working in the performing arts and entertainment. The latest issue of our twice-yearly newsletter Marquee highlights the work they’ve done (and shares the story of a few of the clients they helped) so we thought we’d share the brief introductions to each of our amazing staff members–as well as just a few of their accomplishments–on the blog. Feel free to check out the pdf of the entire issue here, and if you’d like to receive Marquee in the mail, become a member!

Elizabeth Tripp

350,000 Web Visitors

Elizabeth Tripp
AHIRC.org Web Content Developer

AHIRC.org has about 350,000 visitors a year. I make sure our 5,000 links are current and accurate and the information is as streamlined and clear as possible. It’s challenging, but also rewarding knowing that even one link with the right information will help someone connect to affordable health care.”

Risa Neuwirth

2,000 Clients

Risa Neuwirth
L.M.S.W. Health Insurance Counselor

“We counsel more than 2,000 clients a year, in New York, LA and across the country. Many of our clients say they feel overwhelmed and confused about health insurance costs and coverage. It’s really satisfying to be able to reach out to them, listen to their needs, and help them navigate through the morass of information and choices.”

118 Health Care Seminars

AHIRC Goes on Tour

AHIRC’s team of health insurance experts, through partnerships with local arts organizations, continues to reach out nationally to performing arts and entertainment professionals, as well as visual artists, with seminars and workshops that help to explain how health care reform offers new and affordable options for coverage. In 2011, we went on tour, conducting 118 seminars (85 in LA and NYC, and 33 nationwide.)

The Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic team: Administrative Coordinator Judine Alexandre, Health Services Manager Janet Pearl
and Medical Director Dr. Jim Spears, M.D.

29 Stage Manager City Directories

Stage Managers’ National Health Directory

This online resource provides touring companies with a list of doctors and health professionals in 29 cities, all recommended by theaters, stage managers, actors and others in the entertainment industry. Available at actorsfund.org/stagemanagers.

18 Health Care Guides

Our 18 brief city guides on getting affordable health care and health insurance outline public and private health insurance options in a practical Q & A format, and include contact information for selected clinics and pharmacies. All of them are available at www.ahirc.org/health_care_guides.

10 Dancer Health Care Seminars

Dancers Health Insurance Resource Center*

DHIRC.org is our website devoted specifically to providing dancers with all the information they need to find the best and most affordable health insurance available to them. In 2011, we offered seminars in 10 major US dance centers. Visit DHIRC.org.

Dan Kitowski

2 Virtual Health Care Seminars

Dan Kitowski
M.S.W., Director of Health Services, Western Region

“We’re constantly looking for ways to reach more people and get them insured. In addition to in-person visits to cities across the west coast, last year we ran two virtual health insurance seminars—one for the State of Pennsylvania and another in collaboration with Artist Trust in Seattle. We reached 77 people with health care reform and health insurance information, all via online connection. We had a great response, and we’re still following-up with attendees via phone and email counseling.”

Renata Marinaro

2 Health Care Policy Testimonies

Renata Marinaro
L.M.S.W., Director of Health Services, Eastern Region

“Last year I testified at The Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington, DC, and this January the New York City Council heard our testimony on increasing artists’ access to health insurance. We also gave a health care seminar again this year at one of the largest music and film festivals in the country, South by Southwest in Austin, TX. So our national presence in really growing.” Read Renata’s NYC Council testimony here.

Jim Brown

100% Coverage by 2014!

Jim Brown
National Director of Health Services

“We want visual and performing artists  and entertainment professionals to  have the same access to quality, affordable health care as teachers,  business people and politicians. Our  goal is to have 100% of them with comprehensive  health insurance by 2014.”

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Thanks To Everyone Who Helped Make Our 2012 Gala A Success!

May 24, 2012 Comments off

Thanks to The Actors Fund’s 2012 Gala honorees Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara, Harry Belafonte and David Steiner! Photo by Lyn Hughes Photography.

Everyone in The Actors Fund family is still riding high from Monday night’s incredibly wonderful Gala, during which we honored David Steiner and Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara with our Medal of Honor, and Harry Belafonte with The Lee Strasberg Artistic Achievement Award. We’ll be posting video highlights of the evening soon, so keep an eye out for updates!

We are incredibly grateful to the many, many people who contributed to the evening’s success: Angela Lansbury, for opening the evening; Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Douglas Steiner for honoring Medal of Honor awardee David Steiner; the Tony nominated star of End of the Rainbow Michael Cumpsty for making a special appeal for donations with some help from his co-star and co-nominee Tracie Bennett; Annette Bening for her amazing Actors Fund PSA; comic treasures Julie Halston, Charles Busch, Jason Alexander, Phyllis Newman & Lewis J. Stadlen, Ben Stiller, and Oscar winner Christopher Plummer for their hilarious and thoughtful tributes to Stiller & Meara; and Carmen deLavallade, Marge Champion, Tyne Daly, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Drum Circle and Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA, and The Honorable David Dinkins for their moving tributes to Harry Belafonte. Extra-special thanks go to our producers Abby Schroeder and Michael Kerker for putting on such a wonderfully moving and entertaining show!

And finally, we thank our honorees for their dedication to the entertainment industry, their commitment of social justice, and their support of The Actors Fund. We’ll also be posting their not-to-be-missed acceptance speeches, but in the meantime, here’s a bit of Stiller & Meara on Friday’s Morning Joe – we’re grateful they took some time to speak out for The Fund!

A Few Questions for…Jerry Stiller

May 16, 2012 Comments off

The legendary comedy team and acting duo Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara will receive our Medal of Honor — The Fund’s highest award — during this year’s annual gala on May 21 [don’t forget to enter our Gala Raffle 2012 — you could win two tickets to Monday’s event, valued at $2,000!]. In anticipation of the big day, we threw a few questions their way, and they happily took some time out of their ever-busy schedules to respond! (We posted Anne’s fabulous answers a few weeks ago, and you can check them out here).

Actors Fund: Can you tell us how got your start in the business?
Jerry Stiller:  I remember my first connection with theater was down at the Henry Street Playhouse on the Lower East Side. I was 15 years old and what was going on at that time was the Depression and there was this thing called the Federal Theatre. They sent people down to the Settlement House and this particular playhouse. Her name was Esther Lane, this lady, and they were there to do shows for the people in the neighborhood. The Playhouse was still there and I went down one day and I was passing by and I heard music coming out of the theatre. It was someone at the piano playing Night and Day… I just kind of wandered into this little playhouse and on stage was somebody at the piano. The place was completely dark except for a blue circle of light at the back. And when he finished with the song something hit me. I walked up to him and said, “How do I become an actor?” He said, “Go upstairs and see Mrs. Lane.”  I literally went upstairs and there was this wonderful woman who stayed with me in my life forever. She looked at me and said, “What’s your name?” I told her and she said, “Why are you here?” And I said, “I’d like to be an actor.” She said, “I have just the part for you. Tomorrow night you can play the emperor in Many Moons, a James Thurber play.” And I said, “Really?” “Yeah.” So I came back the next night and they gave me a costume like an emperor. She said all you have to do is come on stage, wait till they give you the signal and you pull the bell cord. That night I came on stage. At the signal I pulled the bell cord, and it fell on the floor! I learned so much from Mrs. Lane doing many shows there…. So my beginnings were at the Henry Street Playhouse.

Anne & Jerry during their recent visit to the The Lillian Booth Actors Home.

AF: You both have done so many amazing things in your career, from writing to acting, but we have to admit that we adore your Stiller & Meara act. Is there a favorite moment from your sketches on shows like Ed Sullivan?
JS:  The first one we did was the one that set us up with Ed Sullivan and he booked us after that. It was an interview between Pauline Fredricks [Anne] and a man [Jerry] who was living in Miami Beach with his daughter. One day she calls him up to have lunch and finds out that his name is Mr. Jonah and he claims he was swallowed by a whale. That was the first sketch we did… I look at it now, and it was the funniest thing. It was so completely loose and honest. There were no jokes in it, there was no anything and I knew it was great because about three months later, Bill Cosby was doing Noah.

AF: Comedy and socio/political awareness go hand-in-hand. Why do you think comedians and comedy writers are so important to society?
JS:  It’s the truth. Comedians have this platform, this stage that was given to us by Aeschylus and then the Greeks created this, where someone can come out on the stage with a mask and put it over his face and say things that, once he had the mask on, would alert the audience, or electrify them or educate them and give them insights. (That’s what I learned in college). It seems to me that it developed into what they call the commedia dell’arte school where these kind of ragamuffin comedians play different characters (one was a doctor, one was a lawyer, one was a mistress). And that was the beginning of what later became improv… They were doing that way back when. But improv really got going in the 60s when Anne and I replaced Mike [Nichols] and Elaine [May] and also Shelley Berman [at The Compass Players, a predecessor to Chicago’s Second City], because they went on to do their acts on their own. And suddenly this word “improv” became what everyone was doing.

AF: You made a splash on the Internet last year with your web series, which brought Stiller & Meara back for a whole new generation. Are there any more Stiller & Meara projects we can look forward to?
JS:  That was all good stuff. That was created by Ben [Stiller]. He was the one that got sponsorship for it. Right now we’re involved with something that’s called Million TreesNYC. It’s about planting trees in New York City… We’re chairpeople – Anne and myself. And Mayor Bloomberg put this idea together along with [parks department spokeswoman] Vickie Karp… We did some public service commercials about planting trees in New York City — planting trees on streets that you’d never think had [them]. So we’re spokespeople for that… It’s been a lot of fun.

Lillian Booth Actors Home resident and pianist Joan Stein shares a moment with Jerry.

AF: Our residents loved spending time with you at your recent visit to our Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, NJ. What were your impressions of The Home?
JS:  I’ve been there before and what I have to say, on a personal note, is it’s so amazing to me that there is such a place for actors and for people… who are connected with theater in some way. There’s people from every branch of theater there!

AF: Our readers know your work in the theatre, in films like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and on TV shows like Seinfeld and The King of Queens, but may not be aware of your commitment to assisting members of our profession in times of need. In fact, your advocacy in Albany was instrumental in the passage of the 2004 New York State Entertainment Industry COBRA subsidy, which has permitted thousands of people in performing arts and entertainment to keep their health insurance during periods of episodic employment. Why was this such an important issue for you personally?
JS:  Because when actors finish a show—they are always finishing shows and they’re always looking for work—and up until this point before the COBRA Subsidy Bill was passed—when they lost their health insurance most of them couldn’t afford to self-pay. So we were able to pull that thing off by getting the political folk—the New York State Legislature and Sheldon Silver, and Joseph Bruno too –to recognize what a tremendous economic engine theatre and entertainment is in New York.  It was very important. We were able to influence these people by going up to Albany. I was up there a number of times with  Mrs. [Kitty Carlisle] Hart and Ginny Louloudes [Executive Director for A.R.T./NY]… And somewhere along the line, we were able to make things happen.

Richard Seader makes his point during his chat with Jerry.

I’m so proud of this—I’ve got to tell you. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me as an actor. I don’t care about long runs or short runs or anything…. You get up in front of these legislators… and that was a great source of satisfaction when suddenly one day I started screaming like Fred Constanza at them. And they started laughing and they put away some money for us. So that to me is better than any part on Seinfeld or any of the other shows. This is the thrill.

When you asked what it’s like to get this honor, I can say god! When I started running around wanting to be an activist… I never thought in a million years that I would be doing something like this and be honored with my wife, Anne, and Harry [Belafonte] and David Steiner. All people who really feel the same way about how important theater is, and taking care of actors once they’ve had their day. So I’m good. I’m kvelling.

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Faces Of The Fund: Meg Thomas

May 10, 2012 Comments off

Meg serves as Manager of Special Events and Membership in the Western Region and is the face of The Fund for our members in the Southern California area. She also spearheads our fundraising events in Los Angeles. 

Actors Fund: How did you come to work at The Fund?
Meg: About six years ago I followed up on a listing to volunteer at one of the events that we were doing here in Los Angeles, and that’s how I came on board. I believe that was in 2006 and soon they asked me to help produce some special events. I did that as an independent contractor for a while. And then, almost two years ago, they offered me a full time position—Manager of Special Events and Membership—and I was beyond thrilled to come on board full-time!

AF: What did you do before you came to The Fund?
Meg: Well, I studied theatre and acting in college in San Diego and moved to LA to pursue a career in acting. I did some low budget film work (horror films, I was a screamer!), did a few commercials and worked as a personal assistant to James Best, who was on Dukes of Hazzard at that time. Then the actors’ strike hit in the 1980s and I went to work for a health club because I needed a job. As chance would have it, I ended up opening my own chain of clubs. Through that, entertainment remained my number-one priority and love all along—and I continued to produce some low-budget films while running my businesses—the success of the clubs afforded me the luxury to pursue my dreams. I eventually sold my clubs and went back to pursuing entertainment full time.

AF: Why do you think The Fund is so important for the Los Angeles entertainment community.
Meg: Film and television can be a very tough, cyclical career. It’s up and down, and there’s no guarantee of work—because you’re working this week, this month, or this year, doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same income or job next year. Once the show or movie ends, you’re back looking for work. You have to really be committed to it, and the ups and downs are hard. And yet, in the arts, this is what we do.

When I found out what The Actors Fund does, I was amazed, because I didn’t know there were organizations that did that kind of thing—helped people (in entertainment) in times of need or crisis. I didn’t know that there was any kind of safety net in this industry, and that’s what made me want to volunteer. Since I’ve been here, I see first-hand what we do and who we care for. It’s an amazing organization, and I’m behind it 100%. We get people over a hurdle, through a rough spell, and back on track. They don’t need to give up their dreams. Sometimes we just need a hand up. And a lot of these people are the ones that pay it forward to us later on, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s like being a member of an extended family—others help when one falls.

AF: So as an Angeleno, we have to ask—what’s your favorite awards show? 
Meg: Well, I’ve never been invited to the Oscars, and of course I would love to go—but I have to say the best night out here is our ownTony Awards® Viewing Party. It’s the only event like it anywhere—as the only live streaming of the actual Tony’s. It’s a really fun and intimate night, where all our guests enjoy dinner while watching the Tony’s live—and they get their own show during the commercial breaks with other special guests. This year we’re honoring the wonderful Jason Alexander. It’s really not to be missed!

AF: Give us your pitch: Why should people become an Actors Fund member?
Meg: Because The Fund supports the arts, it’s that simple. The arts are something that define our lives, be it film, stage, dance, opera—we NEED them in our lives, and this community must be nurtured and supported. And here’s the thing, it’s not only for actors—it’s foreverybody that works in entertainment. A lot of people in the arts live paycheck to paycheck or making barely living wages—not everybody makes the big bucks we hear so much about. And it takes all of these people behind the scenes, to create the end result you ultimately see. The set decorators, the costumers, the makeup, the writers, editors—we help everyone. If you believe in the arts, then supporting what we do helps us continue to provide for these people who work to create great art and entertainment.

What’s on your iPod these days?
Well, I recently saw American Idiot, so Green Day is there. There’s Adele, some Amy Winehouse, Dave Matthews Band, and maybe a little blast from my past—Bob Seger and those kinds of guys. And a little bit of classical, just because I’m fairly wound-up all of the time, and sometimes I need to relax and just breathe.

Join The Actors Fund  for access to the best seats in the house, and you’ll also help people in performing arts and entertainment in need. Get more information on the benefits of your Actors Fund membership. Or call Meg Thomas at 323.330.2434, email mthomas@actorsfund.org.

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A Few Questions For: Anne Meara

May 3, 2012 Comments off

The legendary comedy team and acting duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara are set to receive The Actors Fund’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, at our May 21 Gala. In anticipation, we asked them if they would answer a few questions, and they happily obliged! We thought we’d kick things off with Anne’s responses…check back for Jerry’s answers next week!

The Actors Fund: The two of you are incredibly amazing, and have been partners—both at home and at work—for a long, long time. Any hints for the rest of us?
Anne Meara:  NO, that would be presumptuous.

AF: You both have done so many amazing things in your careers, from writing to acting, but we have to admit that we adore your Stiller & Meara act. Is there a favorite moment or host from your early appearances on shows like Ed Sullivan?
AM:  Some situations were more benign than others; I loved Steve Allen, we also did sketches with him as well.

Jerry and Anne delighted residents of The Lillian Booth Actors Home on March 8, when they stopped by to talk about their 33 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Anne’s play “AfterPlay,” their numerous current projects, and more.

AF: Comedy and socio/political awareness go hand-in-hand. Why do you think comedians and comedy writers are so important to society?   
AM:  I don’t answer any questions with socio/political in them… But seriously, the comedian has to point out that the Emperor is naked.  

AF: You’ve been long-time supporters of The Actors Fund. Why do you think an organization like this is so vital to our community?
AM:  Because it can help people relax and know that they’ll have a place to go to where they’ll be treated with dignity.

AF: What does it mean to you to be awarded The Actors Fund Medal of Honor?
AM:  It’s just great to be acknowledged.

AF: You made a splash on the Internet last year with your web series, which brought Stiller & Meara back for a whole new generation. Are there any more Stiller & Meara projects we can look forward to?
AM:  We loved doing that, and we love Mike Rosenstein and Edith Hagigi who produced it, and we want to do more of those…

AF: Our residents loved spending time with you at your recent visit to our Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, NJ. What were your impressions of The Home?
AM:  The home was wonderful, it was like a country club and the guests that we met were really genuinely happy to be there.

For more information on our 2012 Gala honoring Harry Belafonte, Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara and David Steiner visit our webpage. See you on May 21st!


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