By BRUCE DENNILL
Worrying about finance is for accountants.
Think about how many situations you’ve observed, onscreen or elsewhere, where an actor asks a director: “What is my motivation for this role?” How many times has that director said: “What you need to be thinking about here is insurance policies and provident funds; investments and pensions”?
Not a lot, is the answer. People don’t go begin careers in theatre, music, dance, photography, writing and the like because of the solid paychecks.
And though it’s easy (and completely reasonable) to look at artists over the top of your metaphorical glasses and tut-tut about their fiscal irresponsibility, it’s unlikely that artists of any worth would be good at their jobs – the creative, amorphous stuff – if they were trying to match the figures in the debit and credit columns before each performance or exhibition.
The net result is that an uncomfortably high percentage of artists who find themselves in dire straights (the circumstances, not the band) due to injury, sickness, old age or simply a tough employment situation have nothing and no-one to fall back on.
Struggling with medical bills is a depressingly universal pastime, but it often gets much worse – no money for basic groceries or a roof over their heads – for out of work actors, singers, lighting and sound engineers, dancers, directors and all the rest. It’s a tough mental space to be in; the centre of attention on a stage when employed and then forgotten window dressing when someone else aces the audition and nobody’s calling.
What is needed is an organisation of more financially-minded folks who can raise, manage, administrate and distribute the funds needed to keep their arty peers healthy, if not wealthy. And in the Theatre Benevolent Fund (TBF), South African performers, artists and backstage practitioners, have just such an organisation.
The Theatre Benevolent Fund’s origins are briefly explained on the organisation’s website, www.tbf-sa,co,za:
“In February 1962, a special dinner, dance and cabaret show was staged as a benefit performance for the actor David Beattie, who was dying of cancer in a Johannesburg nursing home. The event was organized by Robert (Bobby) Lang. David, a talented young actor, passed away shortly after the function and the balance of the Beattie Benefit Performance was used to start a benefit fund to aid the profession as a whole. The fund was well and truly launched after a rousing presentation called SHOWTIME the following June. A report in THE STAR of 11 April 1962 also reveals that that Sir Noël Coward (still Mr Coward in those days and chairman of the British Actors Benevolent Fund) wrote a letter of congratulations on the formation of the SA Actors Benevolent Fund – the original name of the Theatre Benevolent Fund. Mr Coward commented that by the nature of their profession and very often by their own temperaments, actors found it difficult to save money and when bad luck or illness came along, it meant a lot to have a sympathetic society with the means and the will to help.
In December 1964 the then ABF was registered as a Welfare Organisation, and the members of the theatre profession contributed 25c a week, later 50c a week, of their salaries while working. These amounts were doubled by the managements for whom they worked and the professionals staged shows from time to time to augment the funds.
Unfortunately this practice is no longer adhered to, not least because of the closing down of the former artists’ unions. Very few contributions are at present coming from workers in the entertainment industry although there are ironically more workers in the field than ever before. If it wasn’t for the few stalwarts and loyal friends of the Fund, the TBF would have been forced to close down long ago.”
TBF Chairman Louis van Niekerk shares part of the outfit’s vision: “With the support of various individuals and instances, and after a generous bequest, we gratefully acknowledge that the financial position of the TBF is much improved since the previous financial year. However this gives us no reason to relax our efforts in order to realise the Fund’s ultimate vision of improved care for those in need.
“The Board of Management would eventually like to be able to purchase property, where we can accommodate those senior colleagues who do not have a proper place to live in. This will also mean finding staff to manage such a place of residence and obviously it will cost a lot of money. The TBF Board would like to build up a fund for this specific purpose as a matter of urgency. We are very aware that some of our beneficiaries are living in dire circumstances in utterly inadequate accommodation.
We need to stay diligently focused on our efforts to maintain the dignity of professional performers after they have taken their last bow and the curtain has fallen on their working lives.”
There are many reasons to get involved in supporting the TBF, and happily, guilt is not one of them. Support the Fund because you’re grateful, as an arts lover, for the work those who are now struggling have contributed and will continue to contribute. Donate a bit of spare cash because you’ve been in a tough spot yourself in the past and remember the frustration you felt at the time and how grateful you were when someone bothered to give a toss. Offer expertise or a contribution in kind because every religion on the planet advocates caring for the poor and infirm. Hell – do it to prove to a blind date what a good-hearted person you are: every bit counts.
Get in touch with the relevant people by e-mailing email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org or hunting down Peter Terry on Facebook (do the latter for entertainment purposes, regardless).
Or, if you’d like to donate money – regularly or as a once-off; anonymously or noisily – add these details to your internet banking pages and leave them there:
TBF BANK ACCOUNT DETAILS
FNB: CURRENT ACCOUNT : 6 202 439 8671
ACCOUNT HOLDER: THEATRE BENEVOLENT FUND (PBO NO : 9300 000 322)
FNB BRANCH NO: 250 117
ABSA: SAVINGS ACCOUNT NUMBER: 9305 193 377
ACCOUNT HOLDER: THEATRE BENEVOLENT FUND ( PBO NO : 9300 000 322)
If you would like an 18A Tax Deduction Certificate for your donation, contact the TBF.
If you can, give a little back. It’s the right thing to do.