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Party with a purpose

EIF, People-sponsored aftershow festivities help benefit SAG Foundation

There will be multiple causes for celebration when members of the Screen Actors Guild gather for their annual post-awards soiree Saturday in the parking lot of the Shrine Auditorium.

To help commemorate the SAG Foundation’s 20th anniversary, at least seven monthly programs are in the works related to casting. It’s welcome news for struggling thesps who are having to compete with average Joes and plain Janes on reality TV.

This also may be the year that a nearly decadelong effort to break ground on a documentary on the 71-year history of SAG and Hollywood’s labor movement finally bears fruit, with an Oscar-nominated documentarian interested in lensing the assignment.

“We definitely want to build on these programs so that SAG members can understand the value of belonging to the union,” explains SAG Foundation exec director Marcia Smith.

The org has come a long way since its inception. “When we started 20 years ago we had about $80, and now we’re up to $16 million,” enthuses SAG Foundation prexy Mitch Ryan.

Guild members 18 and older whose dues are paid up will have access to free workshops as part of the Casting Access Project. Venture was created in partnership with the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood and the Casting Society of America.

In addition, an aggressive outreach effort has brought in more members to programs such as the popular Conversations, with “Inside the Actors Studio”-style musings from top talent. Also piquing the interest of SAG members are more film screenings, and Life Raft seminars to navigate the cold and murky waters of showbiz. The latter include tips on how to find an agent, negotiate a casting session and produce low-budget films as well as start a business, make prudent investments and buy real estate.

One perennial effort seeks to expand health insurance coverage for SAG members, many of whom have seen a 40% increase in their self-pay monthly premium. “Less than one-third of guild members nationwide are eligible for pension and health coverage, which I think is probably the clearest way to assess how many people are truly working actors,” Smith observes.

Better days lay ahead for Hollywood and the communities receiving a helping hand from generous celebs. The Entertainment Industry Foundation and People magazine, co-sponsors of the SAG Awards gala, upped their annual joint donation to the SAG Foundation to $100,000 from $75,000 last year.

“We’re so honored to support the SAG Foundation,” says EIF prexy-CEO Lisa Paulsen. “Actors have done a lot to support our charitable work, lending their voice, image and power to some great causes.”

She says the annual after-party provides EIF an opportunity to thank Hollywood’s elite for its ongoing stewardship. Two new EIF initiatives include an effort by the Women’s Cancer Research Fund to develop a blood test that will detect breast cancer in its early stages, and a program featuring comprehensive smoking-cessation support services and an educational campaign for young people trying to kick the habit called Hollywood Unfiltered.

“The relationship with SAG is an important one for us on the awards night as well as throughout the year,” says People managing editor Martha Nelson. Numerous stars participate in the Heroes Among Us program, which honors ordinary people whose extraordinary stories have appeared in the magazine’s pages within the past year.

People is also a participant in the SAG Foundation literacy initiative Book Pals, in which guild members promote the importance of reading to children in school.

While last year’s SAG Awards post-gala decor featured retro elegance, Nelson pledges, “This year we’re going to do something a little more playful and fun, with a 1960s Paris chic-style quality.”

La Cuisine’s three-part menu will include an extensive buffet featuring filet of beef, grilled chicken, Norwegian salmon and an assortment of salads as well as hors d’oeuvres and treats ranging from hazelnut dacquoise and tiramisu to brownies and berries.

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