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   February 23, 2016

Changing the World, One Benefit at a Time

by Kate Shindle

AEA President Nick Wyman

President Kate Shindle

It’s not difficult to become social agitators, advocates or lobbyists for causes we’re passionate about. Once we start down that road, the difficult task is to stop. 

My adult life started at age 20, and it started with activism. Over the years, plenty of people — friends, coworkers, even strangers — have asked me why I decided to get involved with the Miss America Organization. Apparently, it’s hard for people to reconcile what they know of me with what they expect from a Miss America (for further explanation of this phenomenon, you might want to check out the book Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain, a spectacular book written by, ah…me.)

The real answer is that my life, as Miss America 1998 and beyond, has always had a significant focus toward doing my part to effect positive change in the world. During that year, about 90% of my time was dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention. This was both tremendously satisfying and, in my opinion, the most compelling reason to pursue the gig in the first place. At the conclusion of the year, I wasn’t offered a fur coat or a screen test; I was offered a job at a top HIV/AIDS lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

As much as I loved that work, though, I am first and fundamentally an actor. When I moved to New York after college, I was delighted to learn that there were, and still are, abundant opportunities for performing artists to make the world a better place, and many of them involve showing up to sing a song. Or participate in a reading, or a concert staging. Organizations like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund (two of my favorites) are constantly raising money and do so in really creative and innovative ways.  But many, many other charities, plenty of which are discussed in this issue, are able to mobilize performers as well, thanks to the Theatre Authority.  In these pages, you will find the article “Theatre Authority: Qualifying and Applyingto help you get started.

One of the fundamental concepts of union membership is that one person becomes far more powerful when he or she is part of an organized, functioning whole.  For me, a similar phenomenon is at work when it comes to activism. Sorry to sound like — well, Miss America — but even if you have no idea where to start or how to get there, you can make a difference.  The Theatre Authority is one guidepost to look for on the road to advocating for social change.  As artists, we tend to be hardwired toward empathy…which can feel overwhelming in a demanding and often difficult world.  Fortunately, there are plenty of ways in which we can turn those difficulties into opportunities.   

Change the world. Start today.

Contact President Kate Shindle at


From the President Archives

President Shindle's Inaugural Column

Labor Day, Unions for Artists and the Value of Unity

When in doubt, ask The Actors Fund

On Gratitude

Unsung Heroes

Changing the World, One Benefit at a Time


On Progress

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