In past years, the SAG Awards would be gearing up now for its big show, which has been held in January since the 12th edition in 2006. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten all the rules, and in line with kudosfests including the Academy Awards, the annual program honoring actors has shifted later and will now air April 4 on TNT and TBS.
What the show will look like remains to be seen; with so much in flux and changing rapidly, it is unknown at this time if the show will be held in-person, virtually, or a combination of both. “This is definitely a wait-and-see situation,” says Kathy Connell, SAG Awards executive producer. “Variations of plans are in the works, but in this current environment, final decisions won’t be made until closer to [the show].”
Since premiering in 1995, honoring the performances of 1994, the SAG Awards has been open to change. In its second year, the org introduced ensemble categories for film, TV comedy and TV drama — the first major awards show to create such an honor. “We created it to acknowledge that acting is a collaborative art,” notes Connell. “It’s their chemistry on screen that creates a great television show or film. It’s also representative of our union of performers and how our members support each other.”
In 2007, the awards unveiled a category for performance by a stunt ensemble for both motion pictures and television. “Stunts are often such an important part of a TV show or film and we wanted to recognize the teams of people that work side-by-side with our actors to create thrilling moments on screen,” Connell says.
The evening is always a celebration of actors; the winners are voted on by their fellow SAG-AFTRA members and the show kicks off with the now-famous “I am an actor” introductions, in which famous faces reveal behind-the-scenes stories of how they got started. “Nobody understands better than another actor what it takes to create a powerful performance,” says Connell. “Peer recognition from across our membership is incredibly meaningful. That sense of community and pride in their craft is exemplified in the personal and moving speeches our actor recipients deliver at the show.”
And while it’s been a challenging year for all, the SAG-AFTRA union has been able to help and support its own. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation is the 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit that supports SAG-AFTRA performers with emergency financial assistance and free educational programming year-round; it is the benefiting charity of the annual SAG Awards.
The fundraising campaign for this massive relief effort was led by SAG-AFTRA Foundation president Courtney B. Vance, its Actors Council, Entertainment Industry Council and board. “Since March 16, 2020, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation has given over $6.1 million in COVID-19 relief grants to more than 6,500 SAG-AFTRA performers and their families nationwide for help with rent, groceries and bills due to the global pandemic and industry shutdown,” Vance says. “In addition, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation moved its free, educational Performers’ Programs online to help SAG-AFTRA performers hone their craft from home. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation has served remote audiences of over 51,000 SAG-AFTRA members by producing over 1,200 remote panels and workshops, including virtual voiceover, casting feedback and computer software classes, as well as on-camera and VO recording sessions and more.”