A chat with Bruce Spence about ACTober

With 2020 hitting the industry harder than ever, ACTober calls on everyone to reflect on the importance of the performing arts in their lives.

ACTober is a month long campaign, uniting the 6 Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Funds from both Australia and New Zealand. It celebrates all parts of the performing arts – from storytellers to makers, entertainers to crews. Across Australia and New Zealand, COVID shutdowns have caused thousands of events, productions, performances, concerts, and festivals to be cancelled or postponed, leaving countless individuals out-of-work and/or out-of-pocket.

Bruce Spence

Bruce Spence is the Chairman of ABFNSW, a proud member of Actors Equity, and has worked in the Australian theatre, film, and television industry for many years. Some past credits include Endgame, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Secret River, and Macbeth for STC, A Servant of Two Masters, Twelfth Night, Journey’s End, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and Richard III for MTC, musicals such as Les Miserables, Big River, and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and screen credits such as The Matrix Revolutions, Lord of the Rings 3, and Pirates of the Carribbean.

With ACTober well under way, I had a chat to Bruce about his involvement with the ABF and how the organization is working to support performers during these challenging times.

Can you tell me a bit about your history with the Benevolent Fund?

I have been on the committee of the NSW Actors Benevolent Fund for nearly four years now. I have always been aware of the ABF, pretty well right throughout my working life really. The career of an actor is nearly always precarious, even when the industry is thriving there are still a lot of actors out of work. They say that at any given time in the industry, on average, only 10% of actors are in work. That has always been the nature of the beast. But I have been remarkably fortunate in that at the age of 75, I have managed to have steady work, a family and even a house to call my own. I am at present in rehearsal at the Sydney Theatre Company for “Rules for Living” which, hopefully will be the first play back at the Opera House. Being Chair of the NSW ABF allows me to give something back.

What is the goal for ACTober this year?

There has a long tradition throughout the 75 years of the ABF of passing the bucket around theatre audiences to raise funds, but we have generally staggered it throughout the year, when the opportunity arose. Three years ago, we decided to concentrate all our energies on just one month, October and bucket every theatre in Sydney over that month. The two previous years it has been remarkably successful, and we have been enormously touched at the generosity of our local audiences. But this year, with the arrival of COVID-19, the difficulty of raising funds at a time when they were most needed was problematic. The idea of bucketing empty theatres was obviously not a proposition, but the pandemic created an enormous amount of work for us assisting those less fortunate and significantly depleting our funds.

So we have generated two major precedents. Firstly, we have initiated a nationally co-ordinated Actober that includes the five states of South Australia, Western Australia,Victoria, Queensland and NSW, plus New Zealand; and secondly, for the whole of October we are campaigning online. We are endeavouring to reach out to every theatregoer in Australia and ask them to give to the Benevolent fund of their state, to assist us at possibly the worst time in the history of any of the funds.

How are the ABF assisting performers during COVID?

In normal years we assist those in our fraternity who are desperately in need as a result of injury, disease, infirmity or old age, providing financial assistance to pay the cost of medical fees, accommodation costs or even just for some food on the table – basically so they can have some dignity in their darkest hours. This year, because of COVID,  huge numbers of actors who would otherwise be self-sufficient are in desperate need.

Why should people donate to the ABF?

COVID-19 hit the performing industry especially badly. Folk in our industry are generally freelancers and therefore did not qualify for Jobkeeper, there are even some who have not qualified for Jobseeker. We were one of the first industries to close and there is no guarantee that the ondustry will be back to the way it was twelve months ago at all soon. There are tentative signs of theatres opening with less than half houses, but to be honest most theatre companies will be making a loss at that capacity, so the chances of getting back to normal are remote. In the 75 years of the NSW ABF there has never been a more important time to assist those who are unable to earn a living. The ABF does not just help actors. These days we basically cover most practitioners in the performing arts: actors, writers, directors, stage crew, stage managers, you name it — we now have a much wider umbrella to shelter the less fortunate in our industry. Actors etc are by nature a stoic bunch who need to be pretty badly off to ask for assistance.

I hasten to add that we are a registered charity and every donation is tax deductible. Just go to the ABF website and you will be guided to the Actober website. We have made it as easy as possible to give money to a truly worthy cause.

For more information on ACTober, please visit www.actober.com.au

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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