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Marking World AIDS Day 2011

November 30, 2011 Comments off

World AIDS Day 2011 poster design by  www.CraigArtDesign.wordpress.com.

World AIDS Day 2011 marks the 30th year of the fight against HIV/AIDS, the tragic pandemic that continues to affect the lives of millions of people around the world. To commemorate those we’ve lost and to support the many living and coping with the disease, The Actors Fund HIV/AIDS Initiative commissioned this special poster by graphic designer Craig Russell. A client of the Initiative who generously volunteered his services, the empty chair encourages us to take a moment to remember the many people in the entertainment community we’ve lost to AIDS, from performers to patrons.

Throughout his graphic design career, Craig has worked with a numerous organizations, spending the bulk of his time with Channel 13/WNET Television. He has served on the National Board of Directors of The Graphic Artists Guild, done projects with Mary Corliss at MOMA’s Film Stills Archive, and did a series of five large pastel promo portraits of Katharine Hepburn for the Quad Cinema’s renovation, about which Hepburn wrote in a letter that he made her look “G** damned whiiZZingly fascinating!”

Additionally, the staff of The Actors Fund’s HIV/AIDS Initiative took some time out for this special World AIDS Day 2011 video message, embedded below.

The Actors Fund HIV/AIDS Initiative works with men and women in the entertainment industry to create confidential, holistic plans and support systems that will meet each person’s emotional, medical and financial needs over the long term. Our experienced Social Workers provide case management, advocacy, crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, financial assistance, financial management skills development, and referrals to community resources. For more information, visit www.actorsfund.org.

The Actors Fund Helps: Zoë

October 6, 2011 Comments off

Since she turned to The Actors Fund’s Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative (PNWHI) for help when she was fighting cancer nearly ten years ago, Zoë Morsette has been a huge fan of The Actors Fund, and has done whatever she can to give back. A successful Theatrical Craftsperson who was unable to work during chemotherapy, PNWHI helped Zoë through that incredibly difficult time, offering her psychological support, financial assistance, and a helping hand. We’ve chatted with Zoë in the past about the bears she’s created for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ Broadway Bears auctions, but we decided it was time to ask her to sit down for one of our video interviews, so she could share with everyone the story of her cancer fight — and how PNWHI helped.

For more information on The Actors Fund’s Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, and all of our programs and services, visit our website at www.actorsfund.org.

Remembering 9/11: An Actors Fund Story

September 11, 2011 Comments off

On this day of remembrance, we pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 by taking a moment to remind our community that The Fund provides an important safety net for members of the entertainment industry. With a crisis like 9/11, this message becomes even more urgent. The Fund helps our colleagues to face challenges and crises that can arise in anyone’s life. In difficult times, we’re there to assist and guide. For example, through The Actors Fund Work Program, people learn how to translate industry experience into other job opportunities; through our Entertainment Assistance Program, our social workers provide intensive case management that is sensitive to the competitive nature of work in the industry. The following story is one example of how these two programs made a big difference in one person’s life.

Following September 11th, 2001, The Fund initiated a variety of programs and services to help members of the entertainment industry directly affected by the attacks. Counseling programs were initiated, social workers helped link people with special services and job search seminars were expanded for those whose sideline work was in lower Manhattan.

One of the first participants in this expanded job search seminar was a 40-year-old SAG/AFTRA actress member who had a long-term, temporary position at a major financial company located next to the World Trade Center. Having always supplemented her acting career with work as an office temp, she found herself without a job, and suffering anxiety and stress.

She learned about AWP’s job search seminar from a flyer posted at her union. She was relieved to connect, especially because her former employer provided no support and it was difficult securing assistance from other public and private support services.

She gained job search assistance, social service support and help from the weekly support group, and began working full-time as an administrative assistant where a flexible work schedule allowed her to audition. She also received mental health support and guidance, from our Mental Health Services. This is just one of many stories of those we help every day in need, crisis or transition.

We join our fellow Americans in remembering everyone we lost on that September morning. And remember:  Everyone needs help sometime, and The Fund is ready when that time comes. Visit us at www.actorsfund.org.

 

Celebrating Edwin Forrest’s Legacy

May 5, 2011 Comments off

Edwin Forrest Society member James Karen in LA.

The Actors Fund marked its annual Edwin Forrest Day celebrations with two special readings of Shakespeare: The first took place on April 29 on the grounds of The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ (we’ve pasted our highlight video below), and the second, on May 2, at Off Vine in Los Angeles.

The history of The Actors Fund is entwined with the name of this great actor, who historians consider the first great star of the American theatre.


Born in Philadelphia in 1806, Edwin Forrest quickly became the most popular actor in nineteenth-century America. Particularly admired for his interpretations of Shakespeare, he was the first American to be acclaimed internationally as well. (His star shined so brightly, in fact, that he was one of the two actors whose Shakespearian rivalry spurred New York City’s infamous Astor Place Riot in 1849.)

Actors Fund Chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Los Angeles celebration.

The most important part of Edwin Forrest’s legacy, though, was what he did to help change society’s perception of actors, which at the time was not generally positive. A major supporter of both The General Theatrical Fund and the American Dramatic Fund Association (two predecessors of The Actors Fund), his true desire was to establish a retirement home for the elderly members of the profession he so loved. Four years after his death in 1872, The Edwin Forrest Home opened in Philadelphia, funded by the bulk of Forrest’s enormous estate, which he left for this purpose. It remained open until the 1980s, when its Board of Managers decided to close the home, sell the property, and contribute its sizable assets to The Actors Fund for the merger of The Edwin Forrest Home with The Fund’s Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Today, The Lillian Booth’s main section is known as the Edwin Forrest Wing.

The name of this great actor and humanitarian also lives on in The Actors Fund’s Edwin Forrest Society, membership in which is granted to those who have included a gift to The Fund in their estate plan. For more information on the Edwin Forrest Society, please call Wallace Munro, Director of Planned Giving, at 212.221.7300 ext. 128, or e-mail wmunro@actorsfund.org.

Los Angeles Edwin Forrest Day photos by Daniel G. Lam. Edwin Forrest daguerreotype by Mathew Brady.

–Karissa Krenz

Why I Run/Walk: Pamela Dayton

April 28, 2011 Comments off

The EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women is this Saturday in New York and May 7, 2011, in Los Angeles! Our series of videos leading up to the event wraps up with Pamela Dayton, a long-time volunteer, member, and supporter of The Actors Fund — and The Fund’s Run/Walk team. Highlights of Pam’s busy acting career include roles on Broadway/Production include The Producers (she also toured with the show in the USA and Japan), A Little Night Music in LA at the Ahmanson, as well as Frank Loesser: Chance and Chemistry, the All Star Actors Fund Benefit at the Minskoff. Regional highlights include Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady, Dolly Tate with Andrea McArdle in Annie, Get Your Gun, and Boston’s Forbidden Broadway/Hollywood, in which she shared the stage with dear late friend Denice Guanci, for whom she’s participating on The Actors Fund team. Pam is also volunteering in memory of Lynn Redgrave who she met — along with her mother Rachel Kempson — while working on a Theater at Sea cruise to the Amazon.

Sign up for the 14th Annual Revlon Run/Walk as part of The Actors Fund team: click here for NYC and here for LA. This year we’re walking in memory of our beloved friend Lynn Redgrave, as well as all women in our lives that have faced cancer. Your participation directly impacts EIF funding for The Actors Fund Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, which serves women in the entertainment community who are confronting cancer and other serious heath diagnoses. Questions about The Actors Fund Team? Please contact Amy Picar at 212.221.7300 ext. 134 or apicar@actorsfund.org.

Why I Revlon Run/Walk: Karen Zabinski

April 14, 2011 Comments off

Karen ZabinskiIt’s not too late to become part of the Actors Fund Team for the EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women (April 30, 2011 in New York and May 7, 2011, in Los Angeles)! Our series of videos featuring some of our team members continues with Karen Zabinski, a long-time participant and member of IATSE Local 1, who took some time out between performances of Mary Poppins at the beautiful New Amsterdam Theatre to talk to us. Karen has been in the entertainment business since 1975, when she went to work for Seattle Repertory Theatre’s prop department. She became an IATSE member in 1979 and began mixing sound for touring Broadway shows in 1981, for which spent the next 15 years on the road. Karen moved back to New York City in 1996, and has been fortunate enough to work on Broadway ever since.

She’ll be walking not only for the Broadway cast of Mary Poppins on April 30 (and to make the fundraising more fun for them, she’s raffling off the iPod Nano she won at last year’s Run/Walk), but also because “I come from a large, noisy family with 6 brothers and sisters. To lose my Mother and sister to cancer created such a hole in our hearts. I walk in their memory.”

Become part of The Actors Fund team for the 14th Annual Revlon Run/Walk (click here for NYC and here for LA) , for which we’re walking in memory of our beloved friend Lynn Redgrave, as well as all women in our lives that have faced cancer. Your participation directly impacts EIF funding for The Actors Fund Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, which serves women in the entertainment community who are confronting cancer and other serious heath diagnoses. Questions about The Actors Fund Team? Please contact Amy Picar at 212.221.7300 ext. 134 or apicar@actorsfund.org.

Supporting The People Who Make Us Laugh

April 13, 2011 Comments off

American Comedy Fund LogoIn tandem with The Comedy Awards, which aired this weekend on MTV Networks, a consortium of organizations announced the launch of  The American Comedy Fund. To be administered by the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), this new financial resource will help The Actors Fund and the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) provide social services and financial assistance to comedians who qualify. The American Comedy Fund is the first-ever charitable fund dedicated exclusively to supporting the comedy community in times of need, crisis or transition, and will help The Actors Fund provide much-needed financial assistance, health services and other resources for comedians across the country — many of which have no union support.

To further illustrate the need for The American Comedy Fund, the leaders of the three organizations overseeing it, Lisa Paulsen of EIF, Ken Sherer of MPTA, and Joseph Benincasa of The Actors Fund, penned the following Op-Ed, which was published by The Comic’s Comic (and subsequently picked up by The Huffington Post).

“Knights of Comedy: An American Dream or Impossible Dream”

From Bob Hope in the sixties to Steve Byrne and Ryan Dalton performing comedy for American service members over the Christmas holiday in a tent at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, comedians have had a long history of donning Don Quixote’s “helmet of membrino” as their battle gear to perform on the front lines and entertain our troops abroad during wartime.

Comedians have also been the first in line to perform and to help raise millions of dollars for Americans in need back at home, from Comic Relief for the homeless to Hurricane Katrina.

For many of those who provide service in various capacities, from fireman to teachers and hospital workers — unions, guilds, pension and health plans provide financial help and health services in their difficult times.  But when comedians need help, who’s there for them?

In tough economic times, people in some professions struggle more than others.  Comedians are a case in point.  Okay, they don’t put out four alarm fires, but these talented writers, directors and performers have literally changed the laugh track of our lives.  They are pioneering legends and young performers who have calmed our collective consciousness through some of the more challenging times in American history.  They have educated us through their humor.  They have pushed boundaries; from the TV shows that we rushed home to watch, to the movies that are indelibly etched into our collective pop culture memory and the stand-up comedians that make us think while we laugh. And they deserve our support in times of need.

Comedians simply don’t have a national safety net when they are in crisis, whether it’s a need for housing, health care or other basic services.   Without a union, guild, or other protection (which many other entertainment professions such as film, television and theatre offer), comedians face unique challenges to succeed and survive.

The life of the comedian is very similar to any worker or independent contractor that moves from job to job to make their living.  Work is erratic, security is fleeting, health insurance and a respectable retirement is often just a dream.

To fill some of these gaps, entertainers have been able to turn to The Actors Fund www.actorsfund.org and The Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) www.mptvfund.org.

For 90 years, the MPTF has had a rich history of helping performers in need on the west coast in providing care and support ranging from health care services to retirement housing.  Many of comedy’s great legends have turned to MPTF and their network of services such as Larry Fine, one of the Three Stooges; long-time comedic actor Louis Nye; Jerry Colonna, Bob Hope’s side kick; comedic actress Patsy Kelly; and comedian Pat McCormick.

The Actors Fund, since 1882, has served performing arts and entertainment professionals through programs that address their unique and essential needs.  Skilled nursing care and affordable housing, social, health and employment services are all part of how The Actors Fund helps from coast to coast. From Smith and Dale (the “Sunshine Boys”) to “Dr.” Harry Stanley (the “Master of Double Talk”), who both lived in Fund residences, many comedians of all ages have turned to The Fund at different times in their lives.

In a newly created, collaborative effort to provide more services exclusively for comedians, the Entertainment Industry Foundation http://www.eifoundation.org has joined with The Actors Fund and MPTF, along with Comedy Central and MTV Networks to host “The Comedy Awards,” —  the first-ever multi-network, multi-platform, annual event dedicated to honoring and celebrating the world of comedy, premiering on Sunday, April 10, 2011, simultaneously across MTV Networks’ COMEDY CENTRAL, Spike TV, TV Land and VH1.

The purpose for creating The Comedy Awards and this new collaboration is the establishment of The American Comedy Fund, which, through donations made by the public and others at http://www.thecomedyawards.com/fund, will become the first-ever charitable fund dedicated exclusively to providing financial assistance, health benefits and other resources for comedians that qualify across the country during times of distress.  The American Comedy Fund will be administered by EIF in collaboration with the MPTF and The Actors Fund.

A few examples of how The Actors Fund and MPTF have helped comedians illustrate what can be accomplished with this new collaborative fund.

Bill, a comic and comedy writer in his early sixties, was no longer able to work by the time he was in his early fifties due to diabetes and congestive heart failure.  Beset with memory impairments and confined to a wheelchair, he received Social Security disability, a small pension for some of his writing and sporadic financial aid for medical expenses. The Actors Fund helped Bill obtain in-home meal services and home health services – basic needs that were not being met by his income.

And there’s John, a 40-something comedy writer, who has been HIV+ since 1999.  Four years ago he was facing extremely difficult health issues that affected his ability to work. The Actors Fund provided financial assistance for rent and food, and when his health improved, helped him get sideline work. Three years later when his health declined again, The Actors Fund moved him into an affordable housing residence, cutting his rent costs in half.  As his health improved, he’s been writing again — webisodes, jokes for a late night network comedy show, and he’s been hired to write for several well-known comics. In a recent interview, John said:  “Having a dedicated service to people in the entertainment industry is a true godsend. The Actors Fund made a difference in my life. Today, my health has improved, financial stress has begun to leave me, and I am focusing more on my career endeavors.”

In 1998, comedian, veteran comedy writer and performer Pat McCormick was on his way to a show when he suffered a stroke causing his car to careen into a wall and explode into flames.  Bystanders saved his life, but the stroke left him paralyzed on his left side and unable to speak.  Although, as Pat would later remind his friends and fellow comedians — he could still hum!  For the next seven years the Motion Picture & Television Fund provided medical care and emotional support, and when needed, financial assistance.  Pat McCormick was Big Enos in Smokey & the Bandit, and he wrote more gags for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show for 12-years and many other comedians than anyone else.  When crisis struck, the generosity of an industry helped provide quality of life for seven years until his passing in 2005 at MPTF.

Through this new collaboration creating The Comedy Awards & The American Comedy Fund, EIF, MPTF and The Actors Fund, with extraordinary support from Comedy Central and MTV Networks, will utilize their resources and relationships in the entertainment industry to engage the public in raising much needed funds to expand the safety net for comedians.

“Caring for our own” throughout the history of entertainment, our community is often the first to come together for the betterment of those suffering wherever and whenever needed, and our community comes together to support each other from the days of vaudeville to Broadway and Hollywood today.  Through the Comedy Awards, we have found a way for our community, as well as the millions of fans entertained each year by men and woman who make us laugh in clubs, to support comics who need a helping hand.

The American Comedy Fund is a step forward, offering comedians the opportunity to attain what we all strive for and deserve in our lifetimes – a piece of the American Dream.

Lisa Paulsen, President & CEO, Entertainment Industry Foundation

Ken Sherer, CEO, Motion Picture & Television Fund

Joseph P. Benincasa, President, The Actors Fund