Established in 1975, The Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund of Queensland have been Queensland’s primary source of assistance for actors and performing arts professionals in need.
Now, in a time of great suffering for our once thriving arts industry, it is no surprise the fund have stepped up to the plate to help out the arts community. Under President Paul Dellit (OAM), the ABFQLD are working through several large fundraisers in order to redistribute funds and support to those struggling in the current climate.
Paul is an actor, musician, director, musical director, composer, and producer. He has worked with companies including QTC, La Boite, Opera Queensland, Brisbane City Council, Adelaide Festival Centre, Queensland Arts Council, Brisbane Festival, Queensland Music Festival, Seymour Productions and Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). He has served on various boards and committees including the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) and the Music Theatre Panel for the Helpmann Awards, been an arts editor for QNews, an arts commentator, has reviewed theatre, and edited an online arts e-bulletin. In 2003, Paul was awarded a Centenary Medal for his services to the arts, and in the June 2017 was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his outstanding service and contribution the performing arts. When not working with the fund, Paul is a producer at QPAC.
Could you tell me a bit about ABFQLD?
We’re the youngest fund on the East coast, and were formed in 1975. The first fund in Australia was the ABFNSW, founded 75 years ago, and then Victoria 60 years ago, and then us. We were actually started by a donation of $500 from the Actor’s Fund of NSW to kick us off. So we were started by the then Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company, Alan Edwards (AM MBE). He was the president for about 16, and was able to rally the rest of the arts industry to get the fund off the ground. He stayed with the fund well into his retirement, until he passed away. We have been a very progressive fund, in that we have always been proactive in seeking out people who need assistance. People are too embarrassed to come forward. There’s a pride thing amongst actors. They’ll put their hand up for things like bushfire relief or a charity event, but when it comes to themselves needing assistance they’re a little shy. And I say that in a general way, I think a lot of people would be the same. You feel like you’ve failed if you’re asking for a handout. We have been very supported by the Arts industry in Queensland, both by the major and independent companies.
And what about your personal involvement with the fund?
I’ve been involved for over 30 years! You think I’d have a life, do something else… [laughs] I was an actor, trained as an actor, I joined the committee in the 90s and worked along doing stuff with the fund, and then became President and have been for the last 16 or so years. And in that time we’ve raised quite a bit of money, Queensland is very different to New South Wales and Victoria with the number of performers that we have.
How have ABFQLD been working through the COVID crisis?
Because of COVID-19, we took the opportunity for the fund to not raise its profile, but we knew there’d be a lot of performers and arts professionals who are going to need our help. So we kind of clicked into overdrive and launched a major fundraising campain, made a t-shirt (which VABT have started selling too), we’ve been selling greeting cards, badges… And we’ve teamed up with the little red company. for this thing called The IsoLate Late Show every Friday night live on Facebook, and so far they’ve helped us raise nearly $85,000, which is amazing. More and more performers have been coming to us, and this year we’ve had something like a 3400% increase in the assistance we’re providing, I’m sure as a result of COVID. And this isn’t just going to actors – it’s to crew, designers, anyone who works in the industry. It’s really hard to fundraise though, because when people think of actors their response is usually something like “Didn’t Cate Blanchett get $17 million dollars for her last movie?” [chuckles]. And especially recently, with the Bushfire crisis, most major shows wanted to donate or fundraise for that (and rightly so), but it left us wondering how we were going to raise money.
Besides fundraising and financial support, how else do ABFQLD support the industry?
We actually just last week introduced a health and wellness program with things like free flu shots. We’re starting some online meditation soon, for mindfulness and resilience, starting on Tuesday the 26th of May for a few weeks as a trial. If the trial goes well we may do it as a weekly thing. We’re also going to introduce some mental health counselling services next year for actors. We’ve kind of used COVID-19 to jumpstart the fund in a way that we need to actually respond to what the performing arts industry needs. And obviously MEAA and other organisations are helping too.
What do you think the future of Australian theatre is going to look like post-COVID?
I think people are going to have to be careful about what they’re going to program. They’re going to have to entice audiences back… more acceptable and fun stuff, things that’ll remind people of why they like going to the theatre. Then they can bring in the darker or more esoteric stuff. I mean, you look at the Great Depression, people went to see Broadway musicals even when they really couldn’t afford to, because they wanted to be uplifted and made to feel good about themselves, they could escape. But at the moment, no one can go to anything! Is something like Frozen going to be the light at the end of the tunnel, opening in December now? Or are we still going to be in post-pandemic mode? Will it still go ahead? And look, our fund is a hardworking committee, and we’re really lucky that everyone is passionate about the industry. I love this industry, and I love the people who contribute to it. And that’s why I’m so passionate about raising money to assist people in our industry, because it is a hard industry. When I became an actor my parents said they were sorry that they couldn’t really help me with my career – but they were helping, they were supportive of my choice, and you helped me when I needed it and that’s all I could ever ask for as a performer. So that’s what the fund needs to do, to help those in dire circumstances. And let’s face it, there is no more dire circumstance than COVID-19. And it spreads so far… you know, what are agents doing? Agents aren’t earning anything off their actors, so how many of them will fold after this? Or how many will need to cut their books down? Or the cafes that supply food to the green rooms and theatres? It’s massive. Every single aspect of the industry is affected.
For more details and to donate to The Actors’ Benevolent Fund of Queensland, please visit abfqld.com.au.