In the language of the theater, an angel is a person who comes up with the money to stage a production. Conard Fowkes, who runs the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for the Actor’s Equity Association in New York City, is an angel in a related sense. He saves money and time for his clients by helping them prepare their tax returns for no charge, thereby freeing them to pursue theater opportunities.
As a matter of face, the VITA program at Actor’s Equity has been Broadway’s longest running show. Forget about “Cats” and “A Chorus Line!” VITA has been playing to sold-out audiences for the past twenty-eight years and has garnered nothing but rave reviews.
Fowkes says that it is a common perception that actors make a lot of money, but the truth is that his constituents are unemployed at some time of the year. And while they many not make a lot of money, they can have complicated tax returns depending upon where they worked during the year. Sometimes they can have a federal tax return with numerous state returns attached. All of this is done with a smile at no charge.
He supervises thirty volunteers who prepare federal, state and city returns for every jurisdiction. During the 2005 filing season, the volunteers at Actor’s Equity helped 1800 actors ad actresses prepare 4500 federal, state and city returns. Some of their former clients included a two time Oscar Winner, a two time Emmy award winner, and a Screen Actors Guild nominee. A few years ago, a Golden Globe award winner was one of their volunteers.
Fowkes has been training his members on tax law for the past twenty-eight years and has even taken time from his own busy schedule to teach volunteers from a local college. He is a dedicated volunteer who derives satisfaction from helping his fellow actors. It is his very own standing ovation.