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THE WORKING ACTOR

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DEAR JACKIE:

I'm the emergency assistance administrator at the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. I read your column every week and sympathized with the SAG member who expressed concern about losing his health benefits during the strike [Back Stage, Nov. 22, 2007].

You mentioned programs at the Actors Fund, but I wanted to let you know that we too have health insurance programs at the SAG Foundation, in the event that more concerns are raised and the strike continues.

—Stacey Jackson

Emergency Assistance Administrator

Screen Actors Guild Foundation

(Editor's note: Jackson is also an Unscripted blogger for BackStage.com)

DEAR READERS:

After receiving the above email, I had a great chat with Jackson, and I wanted to share the following information with you.

It can be confusing, but the SAG Foundation isn't part of SAG. The foundation is a philanthropic nonprofit organization devoted to bettering the lives of actors—and SAG members in particular. When it comes to health care, the foundation offers several valuable assistance programs to carry actors through hard times. In my earlier column, I mentioned that when SAG or any other workers health-insurance eligibility is lost, the federal government mandates that individuals be able to self-purchase their same coverage for a period of time while they make other arrangements. This ensures that no one is dropped from a health plan simply because of a job loss or earnings decrease—not immediately, anyway. The right to self-pay for the plan ends at 18 months for most, and three years for those who've earned eligibility for at least 17 years. But anyone who has ever failed to meet earnings requirements for SAG health care and received the dreaded letter that announces their imminent booting out of the program and explains their rights knows that such coverage is pricy.

I lost coverage a while back, after the commercials strike, and was shocked at the cost of self-paying. It was somewhere in the vicinity of $500 per month for a single healthy young woman. Too bad I didn't call the SAG Foundation then; I glossed over the information on where to go for help, assuming such programs were only for the truly destitute. I imagined them assisting people in rags living on the streets—people like Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist, not regular struggling actors.

Wrong. Most SAG Foundation assistance programs are open to any actor who has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild for at least five years, although even that rule is not hard and fast. Jackson explains that any performer in trouble should not hesitate to call for help: "If we're not able to help you, I will try and help you find another organization that can."

The SAG Foundation Self-Pay Premium Program does just what the name implies: It pays your self-pay premium for three months while you figure out another arrangement. There are income caps—actors who made more than $25,000 in the previous tax year will be hard-pressed to show need—but Jackson is clear that the foundation always considers each case individually and is understanding of special circumstances.

The foundation also grants funds to actors in need, through its Catastrophic Health Fund—for SAG members in dire health straits—and its Emergency Assistance Program. The latter can help pay for basic living expenses such as rent and utilities in times of trouble. For more information on all that is offered by the SAG Foundation, go to www.sagfoundation.org.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund is another resource for performers in need of assistance. It offers all manner of help to those who meet its eligibility requirements, explained in detail on its website (www.mptv fund.org).

In brief, don't do what I did and assume assistance programs aren't for you. Get informed, and if something like, say, a strike knocks you off your typical insurance-qualifying earning level, call and ask nice people like Jackson for help. She's at (323) 549-6773.

DEAR JACKIE:

This summer my husband and I were fortunate enough to see some of the NYC Midtown International Theatre Festival. We've seen theatre all over the world, but one actor in particular stands out, not only to us but also colleagues who went to this particular show with us. I wanted to ask if you've heard of him and what he's doing or which agent he is with, so we can send a short note of our highest recommendation of him.

Brett Friedmann was fabulous in the piece Papa's Will, and we've never been so impressed by any other actor. We're sure he's going places. He's like a cross between James Dean and Brando, only better. I remember from the playbill that he's SAG and AFTRA, but I don't remember any other info.

My husband is currently working in Thailand, and we'll be here another year, but as theatre enthusiasts, we keep up with what's playing and go to productions in places such as Hong Kong, London, and NYC. I read Back Stage via the Internet. As you can tell, we are big supporters of good theatre and excellence in acting.

—PH

Bangkok, Thailand

DEAR PH:

My first thought upon reading your email was that you must be Friedmann's mother. Your compliments are so enthusiastic they seem too good to be true. But after checking your story and looking up Friedmann, I realized that you are one of those rare individuals who bother to pass on encouragement to deserving performers. On behalf of actors everywhere, thank you!

As to your question of how to find an actor, there are a few simple answers. Actors are registered with their unions, and they keep up-to-date contact and agency information on file. SAG has an actor locater service, and although it's meant only for journalists and producers offering jobs, there was no screening process when I called. I was given the number of Friedmann's manager, whom I called and spoke with a few minutes later. She graciously accepted your compliments, and I forwarded your email to her. I assume Friedmann has since received a copy and has probably taped it to his bathroom mirror by now. Or at least I would have.

Had SAG denied my request for information, I would have found Friedmann online just as easily. It's downright scary how little time it took me to find his pictures, résumé, and number. Thank goodness he wasn't using a personal number but listed only his representative's line. A reminder to actors everywhere: If you aren't represented, invest in a voicemail number, or at least use a cell number that isn't tied to a home address. Just think, in a couple of years a person will not only be able to find your contact information with a few keystrokes on a Google search; they'll be able to watch you leave the theatre and walk to your apartment via Google Earth. Spooky.

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