Brenda Billings, Artistic Director at Miners Alley Playhouse and a longtime contributor to Colorado’s non-profit community, has been named President of The Denver Actors Fund, Executive Director John Moore announced today.
“I am honored and very enthused to join the Denver Actors Fund,” Billings said. “The founding of this unique and vital organization is making such an important difference in the lives of the Denver theatre community.”
Brenda Billings. Photo by Jonathan Scott-McKean.
Billings succeeds Denver Actors Fund co-founder Christopher Boeckx, who will remain active as the fund’s Legal Counsel.
“The Denver Actors Fund never would have gotten off the ground without the wit and wisdom of Chris Boeckx,” Moore said. “He took care of all the initial filings. He led painstaking efforts to secure our good standing as a fully fledged nonprofit in the eyes of the state of Colorado and the IRS – and in record time. He also spearheaded the launch of the ongoing Tap Shoe Initiative, which allows local theatre companies to take ownership of the organization by collecting funds at their shows.
“But Chris’ life circumstances have changed significantly, and so we are not only grateful to have his continuing legal guidance, but also to infuse our efforts with the energy, clout and smarts that Brenda Billings brings to the Denver Actors Fund. She is without question a matriarch of one of Denver’s most accomplished and beloved theatre families.”
Moore pointed to Billings’ steadfast support for the Denver Actors Fund from the beginning. Not only does the Miners Alley Playhouse give free ad space to the fund in every show program, the company keeps an authentic miner’s lunch pail open in the lobby at all times to collect donations.
Billings grew up in a Kansas theatre founded by her father, the legendary PK Worley, who was a musician and director, most notably with the Evergreen Players. Brenda graduated with a degree in Speech and Drama from the University of Kansas and moved to Colorado in 1983 to marry Jim Billings of Wheat Ridge. Her brother, drummer Tag Worley, came six months later, followed by their father in 1984. That began a long family association between the Worleys and with the Evergreen Players, Evergreen Chorale, Colorado Childrens Chorale and more.
“From stage management and directing to acting, dancing and singing – I am most at home in the theatre,” said Billings, whose recent directing credits include “Godspell,” “The Fantasticks” and “Songs for a New World” at Miners Alley Playhouse, as well as the critically acclaimed and award-winning “Hairspray” for the Evergreen Players. She will next direct “Pump Boys and Dinettes” this summer for the Miners Alley Playhouse.
Billings has served on the Board of Directors for many nonprofits in the Denver area. Her longest tenure was with the Colorado Children’s Chorale. She spearheaded their fundraising efforts for more than 10 years and was instrumental in their overall financial success. She also has been active in fundraising for the Denver School of the Arts and The Evergreen Players.
Brenda and Jim Billings have four children: Jacqui Jo, Jamie, Jessica and Brady. Jacqui Jo Billings won a 2014 True West Award for her performance in her mother’s “The Fantasticks.” Jamie Billings performed in the national touring production of “Spring Awakening” and went on to study direction in London. Billings’ brother, Tag, remains a highly sought drummer in the local theatre community. He is married to choreographer Alann Worley.
“I am so enthused to be a part of furthering and growing the success of Denver Actors Fund,” Billings said. “I am looking forward to working with John and the ‘army of angels’ who have taken the charge of caring for our fellow theatre colleagues.”
The Denver Actors Fund, founded in June 2013, is a modest source of financial and other immediate relief for members of the Denver theater community who find themselves in situational medical need. In two years, The Denver Actors Fund has raised about $45,000 and distributed about $16,000 to help recipients with medical bills, insurance, co-payments, supplies and more.
(Click here to read stories about some of the actors, directors, stage managers and more who have been helped to date)
The Denver Actors Fund “Action Teams,” an army of more than 60 volunteers, run errands, provide rides, meals, child care, pet-sitting, personal company and more. To date, volunteers have donated more than 200 hours of service, delivered nearly 50 meals and delivered about 15 bags of groceries.
When Moore and Boeckx started the Fund two years ago, Boeckx was a Peace Corps volunteer finishing up law school at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Since graduating with honors as a member of the Order of St. Ives, he has taken a job with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, gotten married and last week became a first-time father.
“Chris and I said from the very beginning that we want helping the Denver Actors Fund to be a manageable volunteer task for everyone,” Moore said, “… including us.
“We are so grateful for Chris’ essential service, and we will always consider him a vital member of the Denver Actors Fund family.”
One Board position remains open. Anyone interested may inquire by emailing email@example.com
Eight local playwrights are given just one night to write an original one-act piece – a lost scene from an assigned pop-classic film. The next morning, eight directors will gather their actors and scripts, and start rehearsing. The result will be performed later that same night. Performances will be held Saturday, June 27, with shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Vintage Theatre in Aurora. Tickets are $20 each and are available online now. A portion of the night’s proceeds will benefit the Denver Actors Fund. The Mile High 24 is the creation of local Producer Gene Kato. Read more about it here.
As the countdown to “Miscast 2014” enters its final week, the Denver Actors Fund is tickled to introduce the 2014 Miscast Auction: Services provided by artists as they are “cast” in real life.
Many of our most accomplished actors and artists have off-stage careers that call upon a wide variety of real-world skills. Some have kindly agreed to donate their time and talents to help raise funds for the Denver Actors Fund. Check out what they have to offer here, and then bid online by using our public Google doc here.
The bidding will continue online until 3p.m. Sept. 29. It will then continue and culminate at “Miscast 2014” on Sept. 29 at the Aurora Fox Theatre.
“Miscast 2014″ is an opportunity for members of the local theatre community to sing songs and act out scenes they would never … ever! … get cast to perform on any legitimate stage. This popular tradition dates back a decade to its origination by the late Next Stage Theatre Company.
The late Doug Rosen with his friend, Sarah Roshan. Funds donated in Rosen’s name are being redirected to the new Denver Actors Fund.
By John Moore
Sarah Roshan established a fund in 2009 to help Denver actor Doug Rosen battle cancer. The local community responded, so much so that Rosen never got the chance to take advantage of the funds raised before he passed away.
This week, Roshan decided to pay it forward, giving the last $220 to the new Denver Actors Fund.
“His wish was that his money be used for theatre folk in need for medical expenses,” said Roshan. That is exactly why the Denver Actors Fund was created earlier this year: As a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Roshan’s gift brings the balance of the Denver Actor’s Fund to about $3,600.
When Rosen was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, he was told he had, at most, two years to live. He made it almost 25, during which he founded “To Life LIVE,” a series of performances for patients hospitalized with AIDS. Rosen died in 2009 at age 43. Here is my tribute piece to Doug Rosen.
The Denver Actors Fund is planning its third community-wide gathering under the motto, “raising funds while building community.” New Advisory Council chair Shannon McAndrews is planning a DAF Halloween costume party for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, at the Avenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Ave. More information on that party is coming tomorrow.
Board president and local actor Christopher Boeckx, who just passed the bar exam, said he will make an announcement that night about the date the DAF can officially begin taking applications for aid.
Fund volunteers plan to offer assistance to those in need in ways that go beyond monetary — including meal preparation, construction, time-sharing and, eventually, transportation.
Boeckx has undertaken the arduous legal process of qualifying the DAF for 501(c)3 non-profit status. But he said all donations now made to the Fund are already fully tax-deductable.
Tomorrow night, many of you in the Colorado theater community will be joining us for a late-night gathering of karaoke silliness at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse to raise seed money for the new Denver Actors Fund. Since announcing the new initiative last month, I’ve fielded many questions about my goals for the fund, who will benefit from it, and just exactly how funds will be distributed. The following Q&A should give all of you a better idea of how it will work.
Q: What is the Denver Actors Fund?
A: The Denver Actors Fund will be a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in great and sudden medical need. It is not intended to be a cure-all or a replacement, but rather a safety net to help families tackle small problems in times of crisis or sudden transition.
Q: For example?
A: When Robert Michael Sanders’ routine shoulder surgery left his hands partially paralyzed, there was some talk that he would not be released from the hospital without rails being installed in his bathroom and stairways. It didn’t go down that way, but if it had, I would have been right over to Home Depot that very same day with a few handymen in tow. We would have paid for the rails through the Denver Actors Fund, taken them to his residence and installed them, all on the same day … crossing one thing off his family’s list of immediate concerns. Similarly, if Shelly Bordas finds herself unable to fill her life-saving prescriptions for her terminal brain cancer, we will write the check to fill them. In most cases, money will not directly change hands.
Q: Are you creating the fund in response to the sudden rash of incidences within our community this year?
A: Not specifically. The need for this fund became absolutely clear to me last year, when I was recovering from my own emergency colon surgery. I was well-provided for, and wanted for nothing. But I received a random Facebook message of support from Frank Oteri, a local playwright, stage manager and military vet who had been fitted with a colostomy long before I had. His story deeply affected me. I learned that Frank’s long-awaited “takedown” surgery (which puts you all back together again) was delayed when hospital administrators learned he had not yet fully paid his bill from the first surgery. His innsurance had all but run out. Because he was not expected to still be carrying his colostomy bag at this point, Frank had run out of supplies. I asked him what he was doing for colostomy bags, which must be replaced every 4-7 days, or the patient risks severe skin infection. He had none left, and the bag he had on his belly, he had been carrying for 30 days. I didn’t know Frank then, but I asked where he lived, jumped in my car and delivered him my leftover bags. Had the Denver Actors Fund existed last year, I simply would have gone online, ordered him some bags and overnighted them to his door. As I sat on Frank’s porch handing mine over to this brother I never knew I had, I thought, “There should be a funding source where we can help each other in times like this.” I don’t expect the Denver Actors Fund to be so well-endowed that we ever could have paid Frank’s overdue hospital bill. But I do think we should be in a position to help the next Frank with essential supplies.
Photos by John Moore, Kevin Lowry and Daniel Langhoff.
Q: What kind of things WON’T the Denver Actors Fund support?
A: It won’t pay your rent if you can’t find a job. We can’t help you square a gambling debt. Really no matter the individual circumstances, this will not be the Denver Foundation or the SCFD of medical funds. We won’t be able to completely resolve anyone’s medical crisis. This will offer relief a few hundred dollars at a time in response to medical emergency situations.
Q. What is the benefit of giving to the Denver Actors Fund instead of deciding who gets my money myself?
A: People WILL continue to start Kickstarter campaigns for the next Robert Michael Sanders. And they should. Hopefully we will be in a position contribute to those as well. But wouldn’t it be nice to know that you have already helped start a fund that can help that person on the day of his or her crisis, even if it’s just paying for the patient’s transportation home, rather than that person having to wait for an online campaign to pay out? And wouldn’t it be nice knowing you did something to help start a fund that will be helping a variety of people on an ongoing basis … people you have never even met? You will still have to decide whether every care page that gets started online is something you want to contribute to. But this already will be in place, and ready to help immediately.
Q: What if the medical emergency is death?
A: In the event of a qualifying person’s death, the Denver Actors Fund will be authorized to contribute to any memorial fund or beneficiary designated in that person’s name. That could mean a performing-arts scholarship; a fund to provide for the decedent’s children’s education; or a contribution to, say, the American Cancer Society or a suicide-prevention organization. These decisions will be made by the executive director, who will be accountable to the board for his or her decisions (details below).
Q: Do you have to be an actor to qualify for relief?
A: No, but for legal purposes, I have been (somewhat regrettably) advised to create a specific definition of who qualifies — namely to protect myself from personal legal action should anyone who is turned down for funding decide to sue.
Q: So how are you defining who qualifies?
A: Upon the advice of counsel, we are initially proposing that a recipient must have resided within the seven-county metro-area for at least three months. But a recipient can be anyone who has worked in any creative capacity (onstage or backstage) with a Denver-metro theater company within the past five years. In other words, their name just has to have appeared in a program. Any program. Playwright, director, stage manager, costumer, whatever. And the executive director (me) will reserve the right to make exceptions that might expand the pool on a situational basis. If, say Henry Lowenstein needs a hand, we aren’t going to quibble because he hasn’t worked on a show in five years.
Q: So this is a real fund? Or are you just going to be a guy with a checkbook?
A: It will be a real fund. This month, the Denver Actors Fund filed articles of incorporation with the Colorado Secretary of State, and we have begun the process of applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status with the IRS. That way, those who make donations with checks will be able to deduct them from their tax returns. I am preparing the mission statement and the first draft of bylaws for the approval of our first board of directors.
Q: And how will that board be structured?
A: For the first year, the size of the board will consist of three people: The president, vice-president and treasurer. The board will serve in staggered, renewable terms. The president will serve an initial three-year term, the treasurer two years and the vice-president one year. Terms will be renewed only with the unanimous consent of the two other board members.
Q: Will you be one of those board members?
A: No, I will begin as the executive director, because I need to be fully accountable. I will field all funding requests and make immediate decisions so that funds can be made available on the same day as the crisis. All grants funded, once distributed, will be available to the public for review. Full disclosure. To the penny.
Q: So what will be asked of your board members?
A: The board will have two primary responsibilities: The first is to actively supervise the allocation of funds by the executive director according to established guidelines. Every quarter, the executive director will make an accounting of all grants given within the past three months. The board will review those grant decisions against the stated goals and parameters of the Denver Actors Fund, and vote whether to continue the executive director’s privilege of dispensing grants, or relieve him or her from that responsibility. In that case, the president of the board will be charged with finding a replacement, who must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the board.
Q: What are the other two primary board responsibilities?
A: To help replenish funds in the account as quickly as they go out. The board will be asked to actively fund-raise to keep the fund growing. If the fund ever drops to 80 percent of its overall balance from the start of any given calendar year, distribution of funds will be suspended until funds are raised to replenish the fund back over the 80 percent threshold.
Q: How much of this board is already in place?
A: Christopher Boeckx is largely responsible for the existence of the Denver Actors Fund as it exists to date, and so he will serve as the inaugural board president. We are actively seeking volunteers for the other openings.
Q: What other ideas do you have to replenish the fund?
A: With recurring, fun events aimed at building community. Also public and private donations. But because the fund is here to benefit the theater community, we will be turning to that very same community to help us raise money and keep momentum going on an ongoing basis. We have come up with a few ideas to help kick that off.
Q: Like what?
A: Chris Boeckx has forwarded two great ideas: First, we will ask every company presenting a show this summer to designate one evening to benefit Denver Actors Fund. Not for their ticket revenue, but rather, we will ask to deliver a curtain speech at some point during the run to educate the audience about the fund and ask for their support. Our equivalent of the Denver Actors Fund change jar will be a tap shoe. On “Denver Actors Fund” nights, we will ask each company to place a tap shoe in the lobby so that audiences can toss in dollars or quarters at intermission or on their way out the door. In addition, we will ask all theaters to designate a place for a permanent backstage tap shoe, where actors and crew can toss their change in the shoe for collection at the end of each run. We may have prizes for the companies that raise the most backstage change.
Q: But I’m young, strong and have never asked for, or needed help, from anyone. I like the idea of the Denver Actors Fund but, seriously, why should this be important to me?
A: Because you never know when the next person who finds him or herself in need … is you. One day, soon or far, it will be.
STEP UP TO THE MIC/At a glance
An evening of karaoke and contests
A benefit to create the Denver Actors Fund
Saturday, June 1
10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, 1260 22nd St., downtown Denver (between Lawrence and Larimer streets)
Hosted by Kent Randell
Suggested donation: $5; cash only (ATM available)
Presented by John Moore and CultureWest.Org
More information: 720-231-7547 or email CultureWestJohn@gmail.com
Our all-star performing panel (to date): (This list will continue to grow up to June 1. To volunteer to be added to this list, simply email John Moore at CultureWestJohn@gmail.com)
Joel Adam Chavez
Carla Kaiser Kotrc
Lauren Cora Marsh
Jalyn Courtenay Webb
And, fates willing … Megan Van De Hey and Robert Michael Sanders!
Former Denver Post theater critic John Moore launched www.CultureWest.Org in August 2012 to change the way arts and culture are covered in Denver. In addition to reporting breaking news, his innovations have included several long-form video news documentaries; a daily Q&A with local theater directors; and an ambitious, year-long photo series titled, “It’s Opening Night in Colorado.” He also is the founder of the Denver Poust Underground Music Showcase (The UMS), entering its 13th year as now the largest music festival in Denver with more than 350 bands playing over four days.