My Volunteer Journal: Episode 36 – Supporting Fellow Artists at The SAG Foundation

actor-maskFew professions engender disdain like that of the actor. Lawyers might come in a close second, but they are feared. Culturally, actors are thought of as lazy, unintelligent, fake, drug addled, self-absorbed, talking heads lacking any real artistic talent. This means, as an actor, you’re either treated like a god (the less than 1% of professional actors who are recognizable and make a living doing it) or a roach (the 99% who aren’t and don’t). No one likes actors – not really. Even if you admire a star you secretly hate them for not knowing who you are. The dislike of acting as a profession starts at home. Nothing is more disappointing to parents than finding out a child wants to be an actor. For many it’s worse than hearing their child is a drug addict, because drug addiction has a chance of being cured, acting does not. No surprise that my family was disappointed to say the least and, in many ways, continue to be. Though I had a predilection for performing and writing early on I was always told that acting was a nice hobby, but not a profession, so in college I started out pre-med/pre-vet. The problem was that although I was good at the medical subject matter I didn’t have the constitution for it. To this day one of my family members is nice enough to call me up every three months to see if I’m sure I wouldn’t like to return to veterinary school. Another family member, who is older and has seen her tact fade with age, repeatedly says, “You should have been a vet,” every time she sees me. It’s like our little greeting to each other. The disappointment even spread to family friends. One night in the middle of dinner a friend of my father suggested that perhaps I should take classes in waiting tables instead of acting. I held my tongue and didn’t say that it is a shame etiquette classes have not been offered in colleges for the last 50 years.

I knew what to expect when I got into this business. You can’t possibly work in a profession that only a hundred years ago was associated with prostitution and expect anything other than derision. What makes me a little sad though is my experience is far from rare. Everyone I know who is involved with the arts professionally has experienced some version of this treatment, many times much more severe. For what? Because of a silly profession. Shouldn’t we be judged on how we treat others rather than what we do to earn a living?

It’s a relief then that organizations like the SAG Foundation exist. The foundation is not associated or paid for by the Screen Actors Guild instead it functions as an independent entity that offers support of all kinds to professional actors. Everyone deserves to me treated with dignity, and the SAG Foundation is one of the few places where dignity is freely offered no matter what stage you are at in your career. They provide many services to the acting community including: raising funds for actors suffering from traumatic events, career counseling, free classes for professional actors, free screenings of movies, a screening room in which to show your latest film, computer facilities, play and script library, updated industry periodicals, and regular talks by industry profession. In fact, I have been lucky enough to attend many of these talks and have seen Dame Judy Dench, Keira Knightly, Donald Sutherland, Johnny Depp, the cast of “Cold Case”, and the cast of the feature film “Crash” among others. They also run their own charitable projects like BookPALS and We The Children. Every profession should be so lucky to have a support group like the SAG Foundation.

The SAG Foundation counts on volunteers to keep many of their programs running so I decided to help them out at a screening of the indie flick “Blue Tooth Virgins,” which would be followed by a Q & A with Producer/Director/Writer Russell Brown.

Arriving 1 hour before the screening I was told that my job for the night would be to take tickets from the members before they walked into the screening room. The screenings are free, but you must reserve a seat online thus the tickets. This was by far the easiest volunteer assignment I have participated in. I said hi and took the tickets of everyone that walked in and was shocked that I recognized so many faces. I even bumped into my voice over buddy Channe. Although Los Angeles is a big city the acting community is tiny. That was the extent of the volunteering - just smiling and saying “Hi, yellow ticket please.” It was painless and a job I would definitely recommend to someone with a disability, a fear of volunteering or an incredibly tight schedule.

I decided to stay for the screening and Q&A and it was a nice night surrounded by people who understand the heartache, triumphs, and disappointments of trying to make other people smile or forget their cares for a few hours. We don’t judge, we do get jealous, but all in all I think we are always happy for one another when someone is successful. Whether I continue as an actor, succeed as a writer, or one day open a toy shop it’s nice to know that there are some places in the world people can go and not be judged.