Noel Coward visits children at the Silverlands Orphanage
Noel Coward, Richard Attenborough, Marlene Dietrich, Ivor Novello, John Gielgud, Ellen Terry and Audrey Hepburn are just a few of the actors and theatre luminaries who have donated their time, energy and personal funds to the Actors’ Children’s Trust (ACT) over the past 120 years. However, the work of ACT, past and present, remains largely unknown in the industry.
We all know how precarious and unpredictable life can be in our industry. It can be to difficult to ask for help. It can feel like an admission of failure. Failure as actors to make a self-sustaining career, and failure as parents to provide for our children and offer them the opportunities they deserve…
The Actors’ Children Trust (ACT) originally sprang into being as the Actors’ Orphanage Fund in 1896, with Sir Henry Irving as President and Kittie Carson, the wife of the editor of The Stage, the driving force behind it and the first orphanage opened its doors in 1906. Today, thankfully, there is no need for an orphanage. Though times have changed, the volatility of the industry and an actor’s working and home life remains as uncertain as ever, and even more so when family commitments need to be considered first over auditions or enticing job offers.
Our Trustees are mostly actors who want to help people like us: other professional actors. We are keenly aware how precarious and unpredictable life can be in our industry, with periods of feast and famine making it very difficult to plan for unforeseen problems and crises. These uncertainties are brought into sharper focus when we have children to look after. Financial hardship can quickly engulf us as a result of being unable to work through ill-health or injury; family breakdown; having to find ways to support children who themselves are ill or are facing the challenges of disability or special educational needs.
Childcare in the arts has become a hot topic recently through the wide-reaching work of the Parents in Performing Arts campaign (PIPA) which seeks to empower parents, carers and employers to achieve sustainable change in attitudes and practices in order to attract, support and retain a more diverse and flexible workforce. The Actors’ Children’s Trust has been working in close partnership with PIPA and whilst most welfare charities only fund people who are unable to work, ACT is committed to helping actor-parents take jobs and stay in the profession. Childcare grants are key to this and many theatres are now promoting this source of help to each new acting company.
To this end, ACT now funds the children of professional actors from birth to graduation, enabling parents to continue working in the industry. Areas covered include grants for childcare; help with state school costs such as uniforms, activities or after school lessons; medical assistance and equipment for ill parents or children; support for those with special educational needs; funds to further gifted children’s talents; grants to support higher education until the age of 21, and urgent crisis funding. The scope is deliberately broad and the funds are easily and quickly accessible with turnaround time being as fast as a couple of days from first enquiry. All support is confidential. Some families come to ACT for one-off help, others receive funding for many years.
It feels like the past and present are speaking to each other: a long established charity and a new, energetic campaign are working together to create better conditions for working actor families.
ACT was born from the generosity and passion of people who recognised a need and worked hard to meet it, creating substantial change on an individual level. The stories of the families we help can be harrowing, inspirational and humbling, making Trusteeship a hugely rewarding experience and a privilege. But collectively we can do more.
ACT are known mainly via recommendation and need the industry grapevine, its innate benevolence and collective dynamism, to help spread the word.
Can you resolve to tell three people over the next month about our work?
For more information on the Actors’ Children’s Trust visit www.actorschildren.org
For more information on the Parents in Performing Arts campaign visit www.pipacampaign.com