LOS ANGELES—In an effort to help open new doors for the many women struggling to readjust to life after performing, officials from the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists spoke to reporters Thursday about the union’s new job-training program for 30-year-old actresses who have aged out of the workforce.
SAG-AFTRA officials, who said the vast majority of female performers are not prepared for the hardships of losing acting work at the end of their 20s, described the wide variety of tools the new program utilizes—ranging from instructional seminars, to networking events, to hands-on workshops—to help transition women into positions in film production, distribution, and financing.
“As actresses enter their 30s, they suddenly find themselves without a job and nowhere to turn; we want to ensure that they have the skills to find meaningful employment elsewhere in the industry,” said SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard, who added that through the retraining program, nearly 85 percent of unemployed actresses are able to secure jobs in behind-the-scenes fields within 18 months. “Too often, these performers are cast aside after their on-screen usefulness has run its course, and they fall through the cracks. We’re here to help them get back on their feet.”
“Many of these women have dedicated themselves to their craft for up to a decade, and it’s our turn to pay them back,” Howard continued.
According to the program’s website, women who enroll are entitled to free instructional classes—which meet in the basement of the union’s headquarters—geared toward teaching the basics of production jobs such as sound mixing, organizing receipts for on-set expenses, wardrobe supervision, and properly handling pyrotechnics. Former actresses can also attend résumé workshops where career coaches will assist them in showcasing any relevant job experience they may have had prior to their careers in acting, such as highlighting previous restaurant work to help them land a position in craft services.
The placement program reportedly also provides the women with experiential training, including apprenticeships that pair former A-list stars with professionals in a field of interest such as prop masters or the actresses’ own former personal assistants. Highlighting the success of the program, administrators noted that Oscar winner Michelle Williams, who spent four months shadowing a line producer at Universal Studios, is now working there full-time as a location scout.
SAG-AFTRA officials told reporters they are currently developing a web portal that will include job listings from production companies looking to hire female performers who are now beyond on-camera working age.
“It can certainly come as a shock to many of these women when they realize they are losing jobs to a younger generation of workers,” said Howard, noting that many struggling older actresses often overestimate their ability to secure the extremely limited number of Hollywood’s divorcee, witch, and unstable or overbearing mother roles. “We try to explain to them that if they want to stay in the industry, they’ll need to show employers that they have something to offer beyond compelling performances.”
“The sooner they accept that and take action, the sooner they’ll be back in show business,” he continued.
Howard added that the union also offers services intended to preempt women from becoming unemployed in the first place, citing counseling sessions for performers in their mid-20s designed to help them map out a path to careers in marketing or accounting in order to make the jump as seamless as possible.
“After I stopped getting roles, I felt very lost and afraid; this was the job I’d spent my whole life training for, and it was all I’d ever really known,” said former actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, who explained that, with the help of the program, she has found steady work as a best boy electric on Hollywood films and was recently hired as the gaffer on the upcoming movie Jack Reacher 2. “The workshops and coaching sessions gave me the confidence and skills to begin a new chapter in my career, and I’m extremely thankful for that.”
“I’m glad my daughter can see that even though her mother is no longer able to get work on the screen, she can still contribute in her own small way,” she added.