Although the Screen Actors Guild Foundation has been in the business of giving back to the entertainment community for the past three decades, Cyd Wilson, the foundation’s relatively new executive director, says it has struggled in the past with visibility. “I think it’s time to make sure everyone is aware of us,” she says, referring to the foundation’s 30th anniversary celebration Nov. 5 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. “It’s a coming-out party.”
Over the years, the SAG Foundation has given over $17 million in financial and medical assistance to SAG-AFTRA families and more than $6.5 million in scholarships. It also offers educational programs, workshops and panels to SAG-AFTRA members, as well as access to free studio space in its voiceover labs. Additionally, through its BookPALS program, the foundation gets members involved to read books to children in at-risk public schools, and worldwide through an online database called StorylineOnline.net. The videos alone have received more than 65 million views. “The kids hear books read by people who really know how to make the words come alive,” says JoBeth Williams, the board president of the SAG Foundation.
The anniversary bash “is going to be fabulous,” Williams says. The event will include a red carpet and VIP reception, followed by a show that will lead straight into an after-party. Performers include Estelle, Ledisi, Shelby Lynne, Abigail Spencer, Bellamy Young and Cheyenne Jackson. “Rather than a rubber chicken dinner where everyone is sitting at a hotel and talking through performances, I really wanted this to be in a formal setting to give the respect to the people who are onstage being honored,” Wilson explains.
|SAG Foundation by the Numbers|
|1M||Number of children read to in at-risk public schools|
|5K||Free workshops, panels and screenings for SAGAFTRA members in Los Angeles, New York and nationwide|
|$17M||Financial and medical assistance grants over the years|
|$6.5M||Scholarships awarded to 1,860 SAG-AFTRA members and their dependents.|
Those honorees will include Lee Daniels, Megan Ellison and Rob Marshall, who will all receive Patron of the Artists Awards. As Wilson says, all three industry figures “really have an impact on the lives of actors because of their breadth of work and the job opportunities that they’ve created.” Additionally, Leonardo DiCaprio will receive the Actors Inspiration Award for his exceptional onscreen career and philanthropic dedication as chairman of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which raises awareness of both climate change and the need to protect biodiversity.
The evening will also include videos and stories told by people who have been helped over the years. One video was set to include actor Joe Narciso, who received assistance from the foundation years ago when he developed Parkinson’s disease. But just as they were about to shoot the video, Narciso had to cancel for a last-minute surgery. The foundation learned that Narciso had appeared in a series of FedEx commercials back in the day with Steve Carell. So they gave him a call.
“(Carell) jumped in a car, came over here and gave the most incredible presentation telling Joe’s story,” Wilson says.
Wilson says Carell serves as an example: “There are very few actors who rise to stardom from nothing, without a lot of pain and suffering,” she says, which is what she finds beautiful about the community of SAG-AFTRA members. “If we don’t help each other, who is going to help us?”