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Grants for Actors

If you’ve ever read a theater program or sat through the credits of an independent film, you’ve likely spotted a thanks to a foundation, local arts council, or some other grant-making organization. While the arts in America don’t receive nearly the government subsidies that they do in other countries, almost all theater and many film and television acting opportunities were, at some point in their development, aided through grants. Yet we seldom think of pursuing grants to fund our own professional development.

But grants for actors do exist! Not only can grant money help you take the next step in your career, the process of applying for one will also improve your business skills. There’s nothing like spending several hours of wading through reviews, balance sheets, and recommendations to help you assess your acting career’s achievements and set its future goals.

First, You Need Shoes

Yes, shoes. You can’t walk to Kinko’s to make copies of your grant application barefoot!

Conrad Cantzen achieved success on Broadway in the early part of the last century. Upon his death in 1945 he bequeathed his $100,000 estate to The Actors Fund to administer it for the express purpose of helping actors procure high-quality shoes for auditions. Really, he did. Next time some civilian-y type makes a generalization about the superficiality of actors, etc., say, “Did some guy you never met in your profession bequeath money for generations of his colleagues to have shoes!!!? Shoes!!! No, I didn’t think so.”

According the The Actors Fund, Mr. Cantzen stipulated the money “should be used to help actors purchase shoes so they did not appear ‘down at the heels’ when auditioning… Mr. Cantzen felt that performers were more confident when auditioning in new shoes.”

The Conrad Cantzen Memorial Shoe Fund will reimburse up to $40 for one pair of shoes in a 12-month period, but the shoes cannot cost more that $100 total before tax. It is open to all paid-up acting union members who are currently unemployed in the industry. You can access the application here.

And check out this blog post on an actor’s ethical dilemma (ethics !) of accessing the Shoe Fund.

Emergency Financial Assistance

Ok, now that you’ve got shoes, you can move on to the next set of priorities – you know, things like food, shelter, and medical care.

All three actors’ unions have funds set aside to help members in financial crisis. If you’re falling behind on your rent, car payments, or utilities, or cannot afford urgent medical care, call your parent union (the union you joined first) and explain your situation.

SAG Foundation Emergency Assistance: Lisa Schwartz – (323) 549-6773

Frank Nelson Fund – (323) 634-8181

AEA’s charitable foundation donates money to The Actors Fund and The Episcopal Actors Guild to disburse to its members in need. Read below for more on The Actors Fund (you can read my earlier post on this fabulous organization here). The Episcopal Actors Guild serves entertainment professionals of all faiths (“or none,” according to its website) and focuses on helping performers in NYC.

If your parent union is unable to help you, give a call to The Actors Fund, the charitable services organization open to all members of the entertainment industry. Actually, give a call to The Actors Fund anyway. They too make grants for emergency financial assistance and host a variety of other programs to help you earn more and manage your money better. Take one of the Fund’s excellent (free) workshops on financial planning, cash flow for artists, alternatives to foreclosure, or attend an Underearners Anonymous meeting. The Actors Work Program (a department of the fund) hosts a weekly orientation. Once you attend, you become eligible for its weekly Job Blast, a list of full- and part-time jobs culled by the AWP, many of them audition-schedule friendly.

Another organization dedicated to helping artists through tough times is Change, Inc., which is funded by the estate of artist Robert Rauschenberg. Change, Inc. makes one-time grants up to $1000 to aid artists in any discipline experiencing financial crisis. You must demonstrate a quality body of work and submit unpaid bills along with two letters of recommendation. Call the number below and listen to the out-going message that details qualifications and guidelines and points out that “proof of applicant’s efforts to help themselves is always a plus!”

Change, Inc.
P.O. Box 54
Captiva, FL 33924
Phone: (212) 473-3742

Now, Do Some Work.

Okay – you got your shoes, your rent, and your operation. It’s time to start planning your creative world domination!

Fractured Atlas is an arts-services organization based in NYC that serves individuals and companies throughout the world. For the $7.50 monthly membership fee (or $75 for the year) you get access to fiscal sponsorship, liability insurance, group health-care programs, a member calendar and listserve, and a variety of professional development opportunities, including eligibility to apply for a Fractured Atlas Microgrant. These grants range from $250 – $1,000 and, according to the Fractured Atlas website, “support continued training and development so that you can expand your creative and organizational capacity…the goal is to encourage long-term, strategic development of your artistic and/or business skills. We’re looking for an entrepreneurial spirit!”

Fractured Atlas awards 4-8 Microgrants twice a year; deadlines are June 30th and December 31. Adam J. Natale, Director of Membership and Program Development says, “In general, most individual artists get funding for residencies, master classes, and/or travel expenses to go work alongside a master artist…the Microgrants program is extremely competitive; we generally receive 60-80 applications each cycle.”

Mr. Natale was kind enough to offer Minerva readers some additional tips on writing a winning grant application:

* Read the guidelines! The thing you should apply for should be something both appropriate to the grant program and interesting.

* Do not use “flowery” language to describe your art — it can alienate the reader.

* Always remember your audience. The review panel may or may not be made up of artists. So, using things like acronyms and discipline-specific terminology might be lost on them — explain everything!

* But don’t go overboard with your explanations. Be concise. Answer the question, get your point across, and move on.

* Always ask for feedback — especially if you were denied the grant.

Fractured Atlas will gladly give feedback to applicants who are denied a Microgrant. And for more insight into the process, you can read this informative blog post written by one of their grants committee panelists after a round of grant evaluations.

The Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships are ground zero for actor grants. According to its website, The William & Eva Fox Foundation’s sole purpose is to aid “the artistic development of theatre actors as a strategy to strengthen live theatre. Through its prestigious Fox Fellowships the Foundation has provided more than $3 million to underwrite periods of intensive study, research and training by actors recognized as having a serious commitment to the theatre…The Foundation is the largest grantmaker solely dedicated to the artistic and professional development of theatre actors, and one of very few that provides direct support to individual actors.”

Theatre Communications Group administers the grants. It awards the several fellowships each year in two categories: Extraordinary Potential and Distinguished Achievement. The former is given to “exceptionally talented early and mid-career actors who demonstrate interest in and commitment to further training.” The actor is given $15,000 and up to $10,000 additional aid in student loan repayment. Actors awarded the Distinguished Achievement grant receive $25,000 and have amassed an impressive and extensive body of work in the theater.

Both programs aim to strengthen a relationship between an actor and a host theater (the host theater must be a member of TCG). The Program Description states it “encourages actors to reach their full potential by underwriting advanced training, research and development, which will enhance and expand his or her craft.” While either the theater or actor may initiate the grant application, the actor is the grant contact and both parties must demonstrate how the monies will enhance their working relationship. The host theater is awarded $7,500 to offset the actor’s residency activities.

Recent recipients include Juan Rivera Lebron, a company member at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival who used his grant to study classical theater in Spain, and Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, a member of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company, who studied clown and voice in Europe. Both men returned to their artistic homes to create new work influenced by their Fox Foundation-funded studies.

According to Emilya Cachapero, Director Of Artistic Programs and The International Theatre Institute at TCG, the judging panel seeks actors with “clearly defined goals – in terms of how they are shaping their career – and who are proactive. (They should have) a clear a sense of how to assess their skills – to know which need to be broadened and recharged.”

The next round’s deadline has not been decided but will likely be next June. Ms. Cachapero suggests that interested Minerva readers email Sarah McLellan, Artistic Programs Associate at TCG ( to be placed on a notification list when the next deadline is set.

TCG has put extraordinary care into writing the Fox Fellowship guidelines. Even if you don’t envision applying for one, I encourage you to read the application anyway and allow yourself to be energized by the excitement and seriousness with which it discusses the potential of an actor’s career.

If you’re in a full-time training program your faculty may nominate your for a Princess Grace Award. These grants reimburse tuition expenses up to $25,000. If you are returning to school, again check in with your unions. AFTRA offers The Heller Memorial Scholarship, SAG has two scholarship categories – Standard and Transitional (John Dales is the contact at 323-549-6649). AEA sponsors scholarships of up to $4000 through Union Plus.

Always keep in touch with any other academic or professional organizations you’ve been affiliated with. Those that have helped your development in the past might have additional opportunities for their alumni. For instance, The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the organization that sponsors the well-known talent competition for high school seniors that culminates in the annual Presidential Scholars in the Arts, annually awards two alumni of the program the Astral Award, a grant of up to $2500 for the development of a project that will enhance the recipient’s career. If you’ve received a Princess Grace Award in the past you may be eligible for a Princess Grace Foundation Special Projects Grant.

Residencies, Retreats and Development Aid

Ok, now that you’ve got your shoes, your roof, your training, and are building a great body of work, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own!

The Field is another fantastic arts-services organization that aids artists in all disciplines throughout the US. Their Fieldwork courses have been the inception of numerous solo shows, and they enable individuals and young dance and theater companies to learn the nuts and bolts of business through seminars and workshops. Each year they sponsor several retreats and rehearsal/performance space residencies.

If the freeways and ringing cell phones have got you down, maybe you need a change of scenery and some solitude to be the next Mike Daisey or Danny Hoch. Apply to an artists’ colony. Yaddo and MacDowell are the best-known, but there are many more throughout the country. Most don’t give you money to attend (but maybe you can get a Microgrant from Fractured Atlas to offset your travel expenses!), but if you make it past the application process you are awarded with a great workspace, food, the company and inspiration of like-minded artists, and lots of possibilities for after-hours debauchery with your also-away-from-home colleagues. This New York Times article spills the beans on colony life. Apparently, “the work is better at MacDowell but the sex is better at Yaddo.” Alas, I do not have first-hand knowledge of this, but my sources concur.

Dream Big

The common thread in all the grant guidelines I’ve researched is the explicit encouragement of actor applicants to show how proactive they’ve been in identifying and achieving their goals throughout their career. The grant-makers encourage us to assess our strengths and weaknesses and take the trajectories of our careers seriously.

As an actor I sometimes envy my visual arts and dance world counter-parts because it is more common in their disciplines to discuss aesthetic intentions, how it is that they expect their “body of work” to take shape. In contrast, we often perceive the landscape of our careers to be completely dependent on what auditions ‘stick,’ of being at the mercy of whoever casts us. Yet when I read the biographies of the names that have stood the test of time, clearly there is much thought, innovation and service behind careers of the great actors and acting teachers. They’ve changed our craft and the stories they expertly tell have evolved our society.

The MacArthur Foundation “supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” The Foundation yearly awards approximately 20 MacArthur Fellowships, “a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future. The fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. There are no limits on age or area of activity. Individuals cannot apply for this award; they must be nominated.”

The awards give each innovator $500,000 over the course of five years. Actors Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Irwin are past recipients. Not only are they expert performers, but they have used their consummate skill to transform and expand methods of storytelling. With your shoes, your roof, your further training, your relationship with a first-rate theater company, and your great work nurtured at an arts colony – could you be next?

Let us and your fellow readers know your grant writing/researching tips and of any more funding sources you’ve uncovered!

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  1. […] Original post:  Grants for Actors […]

  2. Claire on Thursday 29, 2009

    One of perks of running Brains of Minerva is the pressure to, uh, sometimes take our own advice! Last fall I applied for a grant for a project (the one I discuss in the Building a Project with the Artist’s Way post). Many hours of compiling recommendation letters, dvd work samples and other supporting materials later, a rejection letter arrived in my email while working the world’s worst temp job. I drove home, pouted and cried, knowing I was nowhere closer to getting the $2000 I need to complete the project. But what’s worse is that I immediately began thinking of all the reasons I wasn’t awarded the grant – “the project’s too ‘personal’ – it doesn’t have potential to impact the community,” “the work just isn’t that good,” “The project proves I’m a narcissistic misguided freak who can’t even keep the world’s worst temp job” (I also got a call that my assignment had ‘come to an early close’ on my way home).

    But luckily, having just worked on this article, I had Adam Natale’s words in my mind – “Ask for feedback, especially if you were denied the grant.” Ugh. Not fun. But I’ve won and lost a few grants in my time and never had thought to do this before. I emailed the contact and asked if it was possible to get feedback. A couple of days later she replied, “Actually, all of the reviewers thought your submission was great! The only feedback I got was that it was ‘unique and modern approach to character study and can be accessed by any artist at any time, potentially’ and ‘a very interesting project – unique, thoughtful and progressive.'”

    Now, I write this because, well, for all I know they thought all the negative things too, but they also had these positive and encouraging thoughts, and hearing this helps me nurture the faith I’ve had in the work. And it’s helped me continue plugging away. As actors auditioning, so often the feedback we get is crazily subjective due to the slap-dash nature of auditions and, well, useless (you either got the part of you didin’t, right?). But when we do work that can be evaluated in a more objective manner, we have nothing to lose by asking for feedback (that is, when we care – I didn’t ask why the temp job disappeared…:).

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