Stephanie Zolis

Canada’s entertainment industry has long competed with the powerhouse of the south—including vying for the best talent the industry has to offer.

“There’s an allure to the States because you feel maybe your opportunities are better there,” says Colin Mochrie, best known for starring in This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Whose Line is It Anyway?

But looking for an acting gig abroad isn’t the only option for out of work actors and other entertainment industry workers. Before his career took-off, Mochrie was unable to find acting work, and wasn’t earning enough through side jobs waiting tables and telephone soliciting to cover living expenses.

So Mochrie went to the Actors’ Fund of Canada, a non-profit organization that helps actors make ends meet during career lulls.

“I guess the first time I applied I was out of theatre school and I’d gotten a few jobs and I hit a bit of a dry spell,” Mochrie says, adding he went to the Actors’ Fund three times. Almost immediately after, he ended up getting acting jobs. “So it just kept me on my feet and took care of rent, took a lot of worry away so I could concentrate on auditioning and getting work."

The Fund has been the difference for the 10,000 actors and entertainment industry workers it has helped, many of which might have left the Canada to look for work elsewhere. “I think anything that helps keep Canadian actors here is a great thing,” Mochrie says. “I know so many people who have gone to the Actors’ Fund and it’s given us a culture.”

David Hope, executive director of the Actors' Fund, agrees. “Many people have said over the years that it’s been critical to their ability to continue in this business after a setback that could have potentially ended their career,” Hope says.

“And there are many examples of people who might have been on the verge of quitting or moving out of the country, who at that moment needed a little bit of help. And because that happened, they were able to carry on to the next job and continue to build their career.”

Six actors established the fund almost 50 years ago. They started it to assist colleagues who were faced with extended or sudden unemployment, illness or injury, which Hope says are the top three reasons why people seek out the fund for help.

“We’re an expression of the entertainment industry’s compassion for its members and for those people who are feeling badly about approaching the fund for assistance, we simply tell them, that’s what we’re here for,” Hope says. “That’s why your friends and colleagues have supported the fund these many years—so it can be here at a time when you might need it.”

The fund is sponsored almost solely from industry donations. Fundraisers, such as the annual More than Applause campaign, which targets curtain speeches and audience collection at theatres, also contribute to the fund. Last year, the campaign raised over $75,000.

One of the largest contributors has been the Actra Fraternal Benefit Society (AFBS), which donated $100,000 last December. AFBS has similar roots. It was founded to insure performers and writers and its surplus has been used to donate to the fund, as all AFBS members are eligible for the fund’s short-term assistance.

Institutions like the Actors' Fund of Canada and AFBS have emerged to provide financial support for industry workers by industry workers, something that is unique to the entertainment industry.

John Koensgen volunteers for the fund's national advisory board and says the fund is necessary in his industry. Like Mochrie, Koensgen is in the business— acting, narrating and choreographing for film, television and theatre productions. “I volunteer because this is the only resource for the entertainment community to fall back on if they find themselves in financial difficulty,” Koensgen says. “We like to call it ‘our charity.’

“I personally have never had to use it but many of my fellow actors have. And thank God it’s there – where would they have gone?”