For all the glamour of the theatre world, there is a vast unseen population working behind the scenes to make the magic on stage seem effortless. Despite their important roles, the livelihoods of these tradesmen and women are often the most precarious. Even a small injury or illness can have devastating effects on their well-being. To offer a safety net for those who work in production, the Behind the Scenes Foundation was established in 2005 to provide financial assistance to stagehands, theatre technicians, and other arts professionals in times of need.
In 2016 Theatre Projects’ project manager, Dawn Chiang, was named to the Behind the Scenes Foundation’s Board of Directors.
What makes the Behind the Scenes Foundation’s efforts so important, Dawn said, is that people who work in theatres are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship. Because many insurance programs are tied to one’s ability to work—injury or illness can not only put them out of a job and leave them without medical coverage, but also can threaten their financial solvency, their living situation, and their families.
“It’s a program that we really need in an industry where so many people who work backstage are not covered by insurance or have minimal insurance,” Dawn said. “It’s been needed for years and years. I support the program, and I’m honored to help grow this foundation and its effectiveness.”
As a project manager and lighting designer, Dawn supports the Foundation by helping to get the word out about the assistance they provide and supporting the charity’s fundraising efforts.
Thus far, the Behind the Scenes Foundation has given out more than $700,000 in grants to in-need performing arts professionals—including both union and non-union employees. Completed grant applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, so applicants can often get a response in a matter of days.
One particularly poignant success story for the Foundation was a motorized wheelchair purchased for the resident lighting designer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who became a paraplegic after being struck by a car. The wheelchair provides him with more independence and mobility, and he is now able to get around town and to the theatre campus on his own.
“This grant gave him back his autonomy,” Dawn said, “where he can live his own life on his own schedule.”
Just as a successful theatrical production requires an interconnected family of actors, technicians, administration, and stagehands working in unison—the community of workers who comprise the performing arts industry also must work together to support one another so they can all live full, healthful, prosperous lives.