Taking Care of Our Own was created to assist Washington area theatre professionals experiencing personal emergency situations.
The life of a theatre artist can be rewarding in ways other professions cannot come close to achieving. The adulation of the audience and critical valentines can raise a performers profile and propel them into the limelight. A walk-on role in one production can lead to a featured role that wins an award. A tight-knit community of peers there for friendship and support. Audience members marvel at the detail of finely crafted costumes or a breathtaking set design.
But what happens when the good days of artistic success and steady employment give way to bleaker times? The work doesn’t come, but the rent is still due. The car breaks down. A tree crashes through the roof.. A tickling cough becomes a serious medical condition and the bills start mounting.
If you have attended theatre in Washington, you have likely seen Ted van Griethuysen. An actor for more than 50 years, he has seen his share of theatrical triumphs as well as hardships.
As he recently shared with WAMU’s Rebecca Sheir, when there were tough times, he was able to turn to the Actor’s Fund for assistance. Based in New York and operated by Actors Equity, the Actor’s Fund offers services nationwide to professional entertainers and performing artists.
“They were very kind, very thoughtful,” van Griethuysen told WAMU. “They didn’t make it difficult to get money or anything. So I never forgot that.”
Another Artist’s Story
Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer remembered a much beloved and missed theatre performer and director who went through such dark times. “Jane Pesci-Townsend was a fixture around Washington for years and she had a long battle with cancer,” Schaeffer recalled.
Pesci-Townsend was equally known as a beloved teacher, actress and singer and later in her career, director. She was co-chair of the musical theatre department at Catholic University. Among Washington-area theatre insiders, she was a favorite.
“When she was in the midst of her battle with cancer, I told her we were doing a benefit for her and she said ‘No.’ I told her we were doing it anyway.”
On July 13, 2009, “Giving it up for Jane,” a cabaret-style show, was presented at Signature to raise $10,000 for her mounting medical bills. Schaeffer said the event ended up raising “more than $15,000 to assist Jane’s expenses.”
Tragically, Jane Pesci-Townsend lost her battle with cancer two years ago this month, August 6, 2010.
Schaeffer felt that Washington needed its own permanent fund to assist any theatre artist who might face medical or financial hardship. “I approached Linda Levy Grossman of TheatreWashington about taking the idea on. She jumped at the opportunity.”
Under the new initiative, audiences and artists alike come together to pitch in when times get tight and life’s little emergencies become obstacles. The program is aptly called Taking Care of Our Own.
“Basically, someone in need will call our office, or be able to download the application online, put in what their request is, and then based on what funds are available, the advisory panel will decide on what the gift will be,” Grossman told WAMU. And it is just that, she says: “a gift.” “Not a loan. There’s no need to pay it back.”
TheatreWashington is already taking donations on their website. Aside from donations made by the public directly to the organization, the Washington area theatres are doing their part to raise awareness and solicit funds.
Twenty-six theatres are participating in the initiative for 2012-2013, representing companies large and small. Folger Theatre is one of the participants. In June, company members offered curtain speeches explaining the initiative. “Our production of The Taming of the Shrew took part in the bucket campaign soliciting donations from the audience at the end of each performance,” said Beth Emelson, Folger’s assistant artistic producer. She said Folger audiences were generous in their contributions.
The greater good of the campaign was also rewarding. “It was a wonderfully positive experience for us to have the chance to give back to so many artists who help to make this theater and this community so vibrant and vital,” she said.
Bawdy Fun for a Good Cause: Hummer in the Summer – Monday, August 20th
Raising funds for Taking Care of Our Own can also take a more lively approach: Hummer in the Summer on August 20.
Signature Theatre’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer explained Hummer in the Summer in five words: “Crazy, fun, burlesque variety show.”
Now that we have your attention, Schaeffer and his associate Matthew Gardiner are the show’s directors, the first benefit of its kind for the new initiative. But it hopefully won’t be the last.
“We decided to start small this year and do this fun event at Signature,” said Schaeffer. “But what I want to see is in five years it will have grown into a huge deal and we have to do it at the Warner Theatre.”
This year’s inaugural risqué revue will benefit Taking Care of Our Own with 100 percent of the proceeds supporting the initiative.
In a Las Vegas-style burlesque many of the fittest and most game performers from the Washington, D.C. area will strut their stuff in next to nothing while performing musical numbers such as “Summer Hummin’,” “I Never Do Anything Twice,” and “Silent Sonata Strip.”
Even though Signature is hosting the revue, Schaeffer explained that performers from all over Washington will take part. The show is intended for audiences 18 years and older.
Taking Care of Our Own
Tickets to Hummer in the Summer:
$25 or $125 VIP
Calling the Signature Theatre Box Office (703 820 9771)
or click here.
The star-studded ensemble for Hummer in the Summer includes Sandy Bainum, Lauren Byrne, Evan Casey, Carolyn Cole, Matthew Conner, Matthew DeLorenzo, James Gardiner, Rick Hammerly, Karlah Hamilton, Helen Hedman, Donna Migliaccio, Chris Mueller, Tracey Lynn Olivera, Nova Payton, Bobby Smith, Stephen Gregory Smith, Holly Twyford, Rachel Zampelli, and, in a special appearance, Diva Vicky Vox.
Schaeffer said that while the variety show will be a naughty time for performers and the audience to have a great time, the reason behind the show is serious.
“Until now we have not had fund like this in the DC theatre community,” he said, comparing it to the Actor’s Fund. “We have so many people who have come to this area to make a home and make a career in the theatre. With this fund permanently in place, artists who go through hard times can apply for a couple of thousand dollars.”
Ted van Griethuysen has a tradition: on each opening night, he makes a donation to the Actor’s Fund.
Which gives rise to an idea for us all: why not, at the beginning of each season, take a moment to give personal thanks to all who are about to lay their talents before us over the next 12 months. Then send a donation to Taking Care of Our Own.