Transcripts

D.C.-Area Theater Community Rallies To 'Take Care of Our Own'

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So today's show is all about survival. And in this next story, we'll hear about a creative new way of promoting the survival of a rather specific group of Washingtonians, a group that is often quite literally in the spotlight or in the wings or the costume shop or the box office. We're talking about theater professionals, the folks who help keep the D.C. region's 80-some theaters surviving and thriving. And one of those professionals is this guy.

MR. TED VAN GRIETHUYSEN

00:00:32
My name is Ted van Griethuysen. I'm an actor. I have been one for longer than I care to remark at the moment. But my friends who know it's about 60 years.

SHEIR

00:00:42
Now during those 60 years, Ted's experienced his share of financial hardships, whether it was...

GRIETHUYSEN

00:00:48
I didn't have enough money to pay the rent.

SHEIR

00:00:49
Or...

GRIETHUYSEN

00:00:50
My wife had some illness or I did and I was not insured.

SHEIR

00:00:53
And when these hardships cropped up, Ted often turned to the Actor's Fund, a nationwide organization providing financial and social services to professionals in the entertainment industry.

GRIETHUYSEN

00:01:04
They were very kind, very thoughtful. They didn't make it difficult to get money or anything. So I never forgot that.

SHEIR

00:01:11
Now, again, the Actor's Fund is a national thing. It's headquartered in New York City, the country's most prolific theater town. And though Washington, D.C. is the second most prolific...

MR. ERIC SCHAEFFER

00:01:20
We really just felt like there was nothing in Washington where it really supported the theatrical community when they ran into health problems or, you know, medical bills that they just were not, you know, expecting.

SHEIR

00:01:33
This is Eric Schaeffer.

SCHAEFFER

00:01:34
The artistic director of Signature Theatre.

SHEIR

00:01:36
And through the years, several of Schaeffer's theater colleagues have run into such problems.

SCHAEFFER

00:01:41
When Jane Pesci Townsend, who was a local actress, who unfortunately passed away from cancer -- but when she was sick, she had all these bills. And one night we just threw up this big Give It Up For Jane at Signature here and, you know, we raised over $15,000 to help her with those medical expenses. And we just thought, you know, wouldn't it be great to have that for the community.

SHEIR

00:02:00
So not too long ago, Schaeffer approached Linda Levy Grossman.

MS. LINDA LEVY GROSSMAN

00:02:03
President and CEO of theatre Washington.

SHEIR

00:02:06
That's the local organization dedicated to promoting Washington-area theaters.

GROSSMAN

00:02:09
And we got together for lunch and he shared the idea. And there wasn't even a pause. I said, for sure. Absolutely. This is something that we should be doing and that we must be doing.

SHEIR

00:02:21
Schaeffer's brainstorm eventually grew into a fund called "Taking Care of Our Own."

GROSSMAN

00:02:26
Basically someone in need will call our office or will 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.

SHEIR

00:02:42
And it is just that, she says. A gift.

GROSSMAN

00:02:44
It's not a loan. There's no need to pay it back.

SHEIR

00:02:47
And that gift isn't reserved for theater artists on the stage.

GROSSMAN

00:02:50
When I say theater artists, I mean actors, and I mean designers, and I mean the technicians and all the company members who contribute to putting that product on that stage.

SHEIR

00:03:01
I should note, though, "Taking Care of Our Own" doesn't just help with medical needs. It could be something like...

GROSSMAN

00:03:07
The tree fell on my house.

SHEIR

00:03:07
Or...

GROSSMAN

00:03:08
I'm flooded.

SHEIR

00:03:09
Basically...

GROSSMAN

00:03:10
Something that's catastrophic, unprepared for and, you know, maybe falls just between periods of employment.

SHEIR

00:03:16
Janet Griffin is artistic producer at the Folger Theatre. She's also on "Taking Care of Our Own's" advisory panel. And she says the funny thing about theater artists is they often have this glamorous glow around them.

MS. JANET GRIFFIN

00:03:27
But people don't think of the fact that they don't have a steady paycheck basically. And they don't often have a steady place to live. Theater professionals are not just magical people on the stage. You know, they have to pay the electric bill just like everyone else. And they, you know, have accidents and need care.

SHEIR

00:03:44
"Taking Care of Our Own's" coffers have more than $11,000 so far, thanks to online contributions from the community and to the more than two-dozen theaters participating in "The Bucket Brigade" where bucket-bearing actors solicit donations after the show.

GRIFFIN

00:03:58
We did a whole week at "Taming of the Shrew" and the actors were so excited about participating and standing by the door. And there was a little bit of a competition as to which one raised the most money that night. So it was a very positive experience.

SHEIR

00:04:12
And she hopes "Taking Care of Our Own's" next fundraising push will be equally positive. On August 20, at Signature Theatre, Eric Schaeffer is directing a variety show.

SCHAEFFER

00:04:21
That we're calling "The Summer Hummer."

SHEIR

00:04:23
And it will be a song-and-dance extravaganza modeled after "Broadway Bares." That's New York's annual burlesque benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Schaeffer describes D.C.'s version as a bit, how shall we say, risqué.

SCHAEFFER

00:04:36
You know, some people will be stripping for money. So that actually people come and just throw money at the stage. So it's going to be a fun night but hopefully what it's going to do is all of a sudden just kick off the program and really raise awareness.

SHEIR

00:04:48
Because that's really what it's all about, says theatre Washington's Linda Levy Grossman, raising awareness of Washington's theater artists.

GROSSMAN

00:04:56
And not just what they need but what they give. The work that they put on our stages lights up our town. It provides a level of human connectivity that we don't have in any other way.

SHEIR

00:05:11
And after 60-some years of doing his part to provide that connectivity, actor Ted van Griethuysen says he's thrilled D.C. is starting a sort of Actors Fund of its own.

GRIETHUYSEN

00:05:22
Every time we do a show for the opening night, I make a contribution to the Actors Fund. And in some ways, I don't quite know why it means so much to me, except that it was there when I needed it.

SHEIR

00:05:34
Of course, now that "Taking Care of Our Own" will be there when folks need it here in D.C., perhaps a brand new opening night tradition will be born.

SHEIR

00:05:47
Actually, we'll have a chance to see whether Ted starts that new tradition very soon. He'll be portraying the King of France in "All's Well That Ends Well" as part of Shakespeare Theatre Company's annual free-for-all from August 23 through September 5. The "Summer Hummer" will be held August 20 at Signature Theatre. We have more information about the event and "Taking Care of Our Own" on our website, metroconnection.org.
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