The Actors Fund was founded in 1882 by Harrison Grey Fiske after Fiske realized the critical problems that the acting world was facing at the time. Immediately, The Fund began providing assistance to individuals and families in the entertainment industry. This includes performers and behind-the-scenes workers in film, theater, television, music, opera, and dance. Now over 100 years later, The Fund is still providing entertainment professionals with social services, healthcare, supportive and affordable housing, employment and training services, and assisted living care.
Anita & Steve Shevett
Brian Stokes Mitchell sings from his new album Simply Broadway which is helping to raise money for The Actors Fund.
Brian Stokes Mitchell is an American actor who can be seen in stage, film and television. Nominated for three Tony’s and won the Tony in 2000 for Kiss Me Kate, Stokes has been one of Broadway’s leading men since the early 1990’s. His most recent Broadway work was in 2010 when he starred alongside Patti LuPone in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Stokes has also appeared in many television shows including Roots: the Next Generations, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Frasier, and Glee just to name a few.
Interview Conducted Via Email By: Giacinta Pace
Introduction By: Meg Zrini
Q: When & why did you decide to get involved with The Actor’s Fund and what is your role with the organization?
Brian: I began serving on the board of The Actors Fund, one of the world's greatest performing arts charities, about 15 years ago, when I was in RAGTIME. The Actors Fund is the national human services organization that helps everyone in show business at times of need, crisis or transition - dancers, writers, stage/film crew, designers, musicians, camera operators, etc. - everyone. I call myself "the luckiest actor in the world" because I have made my living solely in show business since I was 17. I never had to wait tables or pump gas or even borrow money from my parents. It didn't seem so odd at the time, but as I look back, I realize that was most unusual. I feel that when we have lead fortunate lives and the universe calls on us to give back, it's "good karma" to answer that call.
Joe Benincasa, the President of the Fund, one day approached me about serving as Chairman of the Board. When he told me it was a 3-year term, I told him I couldn't see how I could possibly have enough time to take it on due to my family commitments and an active career in many different mediums that entails a lot of travel. He asked if I would try it for one year and I agreed. So of course, here I am, now serving my 10th year as chairman!
Q: Tell me about the new project you have been working on and how it will benefit the organization?
Brian: I will be giving a series of 5 charitable concerts over the next few months based on my new album that is being released on October 30th called "Simply Broadway." With so many people out of work and in need, I thought that giving these concerts might inspire others to share their unique talents, skills and gifts in their own world. Someone always needs a hand. One of my "worlds" is the performing arts community, so that's where I will be donating my skills. The profits from the charity concerts will be split by The Actors Fund and the non-profit theater where the concerts will take place.
I also want to use these concerts as a vehicle to draw attention to how important the arts are in all of our lives. Many people are under the mistaken impression that art is something that has no real connection to them, but art and artists of all types are all around us - they make our lives enjoyable and beautiful every day. The work of artists is mostly not in museums. The vast majority of the artists in the world are the unknown “everyday artists” that help create books and films and TV shows and the songs we love that score our lives. They put the graceful curve on our faucets and our furniture. They put the gargoyles on the parapets and the angels in the architecture. And though the rich and famous artists get most of the press, many of those “everyday artists” are grossly underpaid and lack essentials, like health insurance.
My concerts are aimed at helping performing artists in need. The first of these concerts will take place at Lincoln Center in NYC at Alice Tully Hall. That evening, there will also be a special announcement made by Lincoln Center, which I am excited to be a part of. The date is October 31st, which also happens to be my birthday. What a great way to celebrate!
Q: Is there a particularly moving moment you have had working with this group?
Brian: Once each year, nearly every Broadway show (and many touring shows) gives an extra "special performance" for The Actors Fund in which the cast, musicians, stage and company management and the theater owners donate their time, talent and resources. It is a tradition that started more than a hundred years ago. About 45 minutes before the performance takes place, I join other representatives from the Fund to express our gratitude in a short backstage meeting with the company. As we leave the cast to go to their dressing rooms for their final prep, some individual from the cast or crew or orchestra invariably pulls me aside and quietly expresses an often-emotional thanks for something the Fund has done for them or someone close to them - free health care when they were uninsured or help making rent or mortgage payments when they were down or help with a substance abuse problem or the kind care an elderly family member is receiving at our assisted living home in New Jersey. It is incredibly gratifying to be the recipient of that gratitude on behalf of the Actors Fund and to hear firsthand the real-world results of all the nuts-and-bolts administrative work that takes places in our offices and boardrooms.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Brian: The world may feel a little off-kilter right now with so many people disheartened and out of work, but even if we are not employed (and performers frequently aren't!), each of us has a talent, skill or unique gift that we can share with someone else to make the world/country/city/neighborhood/block a better place. The smallest act of kindness can change the world in a most gigantic way. I'd also like to add that right now you can get a download pre-order discount of "Simply Broadway" on iTunes or pre-order a physical CD at CDbaby.com. If you like what you hear, see it live at the concert!