The new Denver Actors Fund: A Q&A

By John Moore
May 31, 2013

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: I can’t attend your fundraiser tomorrow. How you can I help anyway?
A: Just go to our fundraising page here to contribute — with our humble thanks.

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.

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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)

Joanie Brosseau
Steven Burge
Seth Caikowski
Joel Adam Chavez
Brian Colonna
Rich Cowden
Ben Dicke
Diana Dresser
Hannah Duggan
Aubrie Hamrick
Danny Harrigan
Anna High
GerRee Hinshaw
Tim Howard
Carla Kaiser Kotrc
Traci Kern
Geoff Kent
Matt LaFontaine
Daniel Langhoff
Trina Magness
Lauren Cora Marsh
Abby McInerney
Kent Randell
Rob Rehburg
Sarah Rex
Alejandro Roldan
Erin Rollman
Kristen Samu
Brian Smith
Shannan Steele
Markus Warren
Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Evan Weissman
Lisa Young
Meredith Young
And, fates willing … Megan Van De Hey and Robert Michael Sanders!

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About CultureWest.Org
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.