Along with workers’ compensation and any insurance policies you might have covering medical bills and disability, there’s one more place that you might be able to turn to in an hour of dire need — The ESTA Foundation’s Behind the Scenes program.
As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the live event production industry has stepped up to take care of its own through this program, which was established to provide financial support to ill or injured entertainment technology professionals.
At PLSN, we’ve tried to support their efforts by publicizing the good work that they do. But, like many, until I started gathering the info for this article, I never truly understood the process of how Behind the Scenes works.
A Goal of $5 Million
The ESTA Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization established in early 2005 to create and support educational and charitable programs for the entertainment technology industry.
The primary goals of the ESTA Foundation are to fill an industry-wide need for practically-educated and trained entertainment technicians, and also to develop public and governmental awareness of the entertainment technology career path. Finally, the foundation is there to assist industry professionals in times of crises.
The work of The ESTA Foundation is carried out by volunteers serving on a 17-member board of directors, or on one of the foundation’s committees. Each year, the board of the foundation allots a certain amount of money towards actually issuing grants to applicants in need, then the rest of the money raised goes into building the endowment.
Since The ESTA Foundation began in 2005, the Behind the Scenes program has received support from individuals, companies and other nonprofit organizations including Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids. Although the endowment has grown past the $500,000 mark, the goal is to establish a $5 million endowment fund, so there’s still a long way to go.
The Behind the Scenes program’s mission is to help professionals in the entertainment business, ranging from production managers, stage managers, technical directors and designers to technicians working in lighting, staging, rigging, audio, hair wardrobe and costumes — really, anyone who works on the technical side of the industry, including individuals who work for companies supplying products or services to the industry, such as production companies, dealers and manufacturers.
Along with the financial assistance, Behind the Scenes becomes especially valuable to those receiving assistance by responding quickly. Its review committee strives to make a decision within a few days after receiving an application for aid. A three-member screening panel makes recommendations on grant applications to the full board of directors.
If the review period is considerably quicker than that for, say, the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits program — Behind the Scenes does operate with a rigorous application process.
Along with details about your work history (you need to have worked in the industry full-time for a five-year span), funds are distributed on the basis of need, so a fair amount of detailed financial information is required, including tax returns for the previous two years. Last but not least, the application for aid requires detailed information about the nature of the illness or injury, along with a doctor’s letter.
Behind the Scenes is dedicated to the needs of workers based in the U.S. and Canada. Although beneficiaries have to work in the industry, family members can benefit from applications made on the recipient’s behalf, but the applicant typically needs to have legal power of attorney.
There have been cases where Behind the Scenes has helped where a parent had to take off work to take care of a child, or where other medical problems have been a drain on the family financially. Other grants have been made to surviving family members where an eligible worker has died.
With only a half-million dollar endowment, Behind the Scenes funding is given out judiciously — and in most cases, a little needs to go a long way. Some grants are limited to short-term living expenses — perhaps just a month or two — to help ease the burden of the family’s immediate financial needs.
A Practical Approach
Those reviewing Behind the Scenes grant applications basically look for opportunities to keep a bad situation from getting a lot worse: avoiding eviction, covering the cost of medicine or physical therapy and paying premiums so that insurance policies don’t lapse.
There are a number of ways to support Behind the Scenes. At the annual USITT conference and trade show, Behind the Scenes has a raffle that is co-sponsored by the Long Reach Long Riders. They hold another raffle during LDI, the biggest contribution time of the year for Behind the Scenes.
This year, however, the state of Nevada is making it difficult to hold such events for charity. The state law says that in order to collect money for a charity, the charity must have an office in the state and it must directly benefit only state residents.
To combat this difficulty, Behind the Scenes has had a number of alternative giving opportunities available. Two years ago, they launched the Behind the Scenes boutique. The boutique sells products and gifts to help raise funds.
Behind the Scenes’ annual holiday card sales program (estafoundation.org/bts/holidaycards2012.htm) is another popular way to provide support. Designers contribute their artistry, and companies in the industry order them, personalize them and send them out to their customers, with the attractive designs enhanced with an extra dose of good will. Individuals can order the cards in packs of 10. This year’s program includes card designs from John Lee Beatty, Michael Curry, Ralph Funicello, Andrew Hefter, Cindy White and David Zinn.
One of the more recent initiatives benefitting the Behind the Scenes program is the Ghostlight Society, a legacy giving program that can include retirement plan funds, annuity funds or any number of tax-deductible trusts or planned giving options available to donors.
Manufacturers are also supporting the Behind the Scenes program. ETC’s iRFR app, which gives designers remote access to ETC consoles on their iPhones, also raises funds for Behind the Scenes and the U.K.-based Light Relief charity. Total funds so far for Behind the Scenes: more than $75,000.
Other suppliers supporting Behind the Scenes include Rosco, which donates proceeds from the sale of its Roscolux #359 Medium Violet gel to the organization, and Vincent Lighting Systems, which has had a workplace giving option for employees for five years.
Other supporters include the Long Reach Long Riders, who raised more than $50,000 with their August 2012 journey through the Pacific Northwest.
Lighting designers including Ken Billington, Rick Fisher, Jennifer Tipton, Kenneth Posner and others have also contributed via By Design Day. On that day in late April every year, they have been donating any income from royalties to Behind the Scenes and Light Relief.
There are many other ways to support Behind the Scenes, either through direct contributions or by supporting related fund-raising efforts. And not all supporters are deep-pocketed corporations or famous designers. Students and regional organizations support the cause.
One example is the annual “Short Reach Short Riders” tricycle race, staged by the USITT chapter at Mount Vernon High School in Mount Vernon, IN every year.
Students at Penn State University have also supported Behind the Scenes via proceeds from a fund raising event at a local Cold Stone Creamery outlet and, separately, a production of Urinetown that asked for donations from those using the restrooms.
Thanks to all these efforts and more, Behind the Scenes has been able to bring help and hope to industry professionals when they need it the most, helping them recover and get back to work and move on with their lives. By finding creative new ways to support and fund this group, the whole industry can work together to support the needs of an unfortunate few.
If you want to find a way to support this group, which was formed to support us in our time of need, learn more at