We stand poised at the start of the new theatre season, pondering which plays and musicals will take us to new places, which will lead us to discover new talents, new characters, which will challenge us in new ways, and which will we greet like returning old friends.
It takes legions of people to bring these productions into being. The writers who spin thoughts into stories and characters. The directors and designers who create the worlds in which they live. The performers who literally breathe life into them. The graphic artists, the stitchers, the makeup people, the technicians, the backstage crews, the box office and front of house staff.
There is no way to acknowledge them all. However, there is one way to thank them – by assuring them that, when misfortune strikes, our community is there to help. It is called Taking Care of Our Own and is administered by theatreWashington.
The program has raised $242,000 since 2012, Amy Austin, President and CEO of theatreWashington told us. “Some (fund payments) deal in tragedy, like a beating in a robbery, or a life-altering accident.” Austin is ticking off the ways that the fund has helped twenty people with awards for as much as $5,000. “Some are unexpected surgeries, a singer with nodules on the throat. And we have non-medical emergencies, like fixing car problems to enable someone to continue to go to rehearsals, or a production artist who needed a laptop repaired for tech rehearsals.”
The fund considers all applications made to the theatreWashington website, and seeks out more. “We try to be eyes and ears for the fund,” Austin explains. “If we become aware of someone’s need through a conversation or through social media, we reach out to ask if the individual is aware of the Taking Care of Our Own program.”
Taking Care of Our Own is administered by an “advisory panel…administered by tW who have been volunteering since the program began: Eric Schaeffer (Signature Theatre), Bill Largess (Washington Stage Guild), Janet Griffin (Folger Theatre) and Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg (Theater J),” Austin says. “As applications are received, they’re reviewed and discussed by the panel to decide on whether assistance will be granted and to what amount.” The Advisory Panel is empowered to make awards outside the Fund guidelines if it concludes that the interests of the community require it. theatreWashington puts 10% of the fund toward administrative costs.
You’ve seen the yellow Bucket Brigades in theatre lobbies and have attended or know of their popular bawdy fundraiser, The Summer Hummer, taking place this year on August 22nd at Signature Theatre.
“Both the Bucket Brigades and the Summer Hummers are very successful. The Round House Theatre Bucket Brigade brought in over $12,000 this year alone, and all told, bucket brigades at area theatres will bring in more than $30,000 this year,” she reveals.
“The Summer Hummer brings in close to $20,000 for its two performances. It’s a big production and everyone volunteers their time. The ticket price is a low $35.00, making it easy for a large audience to come for a rollicking good time.”
Acknowledging the fund’s balance in excess of $100,000, Austin agrees”[It’s] a healthy balance, [but] it isn’t excessive. If a major tragedy strikes, we will be prepared, and as more people find out about the fund, we are in a place to help them. It’s a nascent giving program that is off to a very healthy start. It’s a powerful program for the whole community who often live with economic uncertainty.”
While Austin pronounces herself satisfied with both the revenue and expenditure side of theatreWashington’s Taking Care of our Own fund, she leaves open the possibility for growth. “I believe the future of the fund could be powerful. Wouldn’t it be grand to have a place for theatre professionals and actors to retire? Or a fund to help defray the costs of aging for the many who have given so much?”
After the interview, she passed on this note from a grant recipient: “It is truly because of Taking Care of Our Own that I have been able to get the treatment I needed in order to save my life.”
There are three easy ways in which everyone can give back to all of our theatermakers with a donation to Taking Care of Our Own:
. Attend Summer Hummer, August 22nd (showtimes: 7pm and 9pm)
. Give when you see the yellow Bucket Brigades, usually held by a theatremakers. Great chance to thank them.