Broadway Legend Brian Stokes Mitchell on His Coronavirus Diagnosis and How to Help Out-of-Work Actors

Adam Rathe
Photo credit: Theo Wargo - Getty Images

From Town & Country

Brian Stokes Mitchell had just finished a rehearsal for Love Life, a revival of the 1948 Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner musical, at New York’s City Center when he heard that Broadway was going dark. “It was the first time in 72 years the show had been performed by professional actors,” the Tony Award winner says. “They had just finished building the set that day, and then we got the news about Broadway closing.”

But while Love Life and a number of the actor’s other projects are on hold, that doesn’t mean Mitchell is throwing up his hands.

As the chairman of the Actors Fund, Mitchell is on the front lines of helping the entertainment community during the COVID-19 crisis. (Mitchell recently announced that he himself is sick with the virus, though he says he's doing well.) The Fund, a 138-year-old institution that, despite its name, is a resource for anyone who makes a living working in the entertainment industry, has gone into overdrive to help people in peril, aiding in everything from housing costs to medical insurance and beyond.

The original content the Actors Fund is releasing—including daily variety shows and one-time-only events like a recent Rosie O’Donnell-hosted fundraiser all featuring some of the most recognizable names in showbiz—might be entertainment, but its mission is serious. Here, Mitchell tells T&C what the Actors Fund is doing and how we can all help.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Who benefits from the Actors Fund? Is it only actors?

The Actors Fund has always served all entertainment professionals, which means anybody who makes a living from the industry. It’s not just for actors, it’s for anyone involved in the making of television, film, music, dance, radio, and more. We’re here for camera people, writers, directors, crew members, editors, designers, gaffers, grips—anybody who’s an entertainment professional. People can find out more about how to apply on our website.

What is the Actors Fund doing to respond to the crisis?

One of things I’m so proud of about the Actors Fund is that we’re set up to help people in lots of different ways. What I’m finding now is a spirit of innovation among people at the Actors Fund and in the entertainment community in general; people are coming up with inventive, wonderful ideas of how to help. One of our issues is raising funds—two of our main ways of doing that for this, our gala and our Ragtime reunion concert, were postponed—so we’ve had to come up with new ways to bring money and attention to the fund.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Which of those are in action already?

There have been a number of different programs that people are doing to help those impacted by this pandemic. One is Stars in the House, a twice-daily digital series [at 2pm and 8pm Eastern Standard Time] that Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley do which brings stars into people’s homes every day to raise funds for the entertainment community. Guests have included Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Annette Bening, and Tina Fey among others.

There’s another program called Humpday with Hampshire; we’re teaming up with Schitt’s Creek star Emily Hampshire for a weekly livestream talk show that will air Wednesdays at 5pm on the Actors Fund YouTube channel.

There was a fantastic concert that Rosie O’Donnell put together for the Fund that raised $627,000; it can still be viewed online. Rosie herself also committed $100,000 that evening to the Actors Fund. There’s also Broadway Jackbox, a twice-weekly online series, airing Tuesdays and Fridays on Twitch, featuring Broadway personalities playing games from Jackbox Games. And TodayTix has launched the Intermission Mission, where members can watch exclusive performances from members of the Broadway community on Instagram.

What are the benefits that the fund can provide?

What we’re trying to do is mobilize as quickly as possible to help people; the Fund has transitioned to offer our services via our website and over the phone. We’re not there in the office, but we’re as available as we always have been. Since March 18, we’ve provided $535,237 in emergency financial loans to 458 people who work in our industry.

The Fund’s first priority is the safety and security of our colleagues. We’re helping people with essential medications, health-insurance premiums, to pay for rent, to cover food and utilities. A couple, both theater actors, with two small children and one on the way received assistance for food and rent; a diabetic musician who lost all of his gigs received funds for his health-insurance premium; a director who recently moved to New York and was staying with friends received assistance in securing temporary housing so that she could self-isolate.

There are all sorts of things coming at us, but we’re well equipped to help people out. Our entire social work staff and other staff who have been quickly deputized to do so are screening and processing about 150 requests a day. Normally, we manage about 60 per week. Our immediate need will be about $10 million, and despite the challenges of this pandemic, we’re going to stay liquid as this goes on to see where we’re best able to help.

What can people to do help right now?

We’re trying to make so many things happen in isolation right now. I so admire the creativity of our community and the fact that we’re all finding ways to do these things together. The easiest quickest answer is for people to go to our website and donate. That’s the most useful thing for us right now. As this situation progresses, we’ll have more ways for people to help.

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