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NYC New Member Reception

"Remember—the artist creates the industry."

---Santino Fontana, New Member Reception Guest Speaker

By Tom Miller
Director of Education & Outreach

Santino Fontana

On April 15, 2013 Actors' Equity Association hosted an SRO New Member Reception in the Association’s Council Room in New York City. Equity’s newest Members received informational packets and raffles were held featuring Equity and Actors Federal Credit Union giveaways. Santino Fontana was the Guest Speaker; he is currently performing as The Prince in the Broadway production of RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA for which he is a 2013 TONY AWARD® nominee. He is the recipient of a 2010 Drama Desk Award, a 2011 Clarence Derwent Award, and the 2012 Lucille Lortel and Obie Awards.

Mr. Fontana was born in California and trained at the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre Actor Training program. He received his Equity card in 2004 at the Guthrie in a production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. "I moved to New York in 2006, and although it was very exciting, it also felt like I was starting all over. Minneapolis was a familiar and safe cocoon of school and friends and work. Adjusting to New York was a process—it took time to figure out how to navigate all of this. Once I got settled, I bought a book that listed New York agents and made tons of self-submissions," to which he added wryly, "that were never responded to."

In the subsequent Q & A Santino answered questions about agents, casting directors, thank you notes, and maintaining a performance over a long run.

How did you get an agent?
While still living in Minneapolis, Santino was an assistant director for a play at the Guthrie. Every weekend he ran lines with two of the actors who offered, once he moved to New York, to contact some people on his behalf. "This was an incredibly generous offer because they hadn’t seen me on stage. I was so lucky." Once in New York, the referral led to an invitation to do monologues in an agent’s office. Recalling the awkwardness of the experience he said, "I suspect performing THE GOAT in an office with phones ringing was not what Edward Albee intended." He credited the agency’s interest in him to the fact that the referral came from existing clients. It also helped that fortuitously, the Guthrie was casting a production of HAMLET and they had expressed an interest in him for the title role which he eventually booked. He shared the insight, "As much as possible, direct your energy into creating work versus pursuing representation. Remember—the artist creates the industry. You have the ability to create your own projects and with creativity as a primary focus there is every likelihood that representation will be drawn to you."

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On the topic of casting directors Santino offered, "It can be helpful when starting out to have an established actor introduce you to casting directors." An introduction and recommendation of "you should see this person" is often enough to pique a casting directors interest. Casting directors can often provide a door into the business. "They think artistically—they understand that you are able to do different things—they know agents and directors and they want you to be good because it makes their job easier."

He shared that he wrote a thank-you note for every audition and that the note would often include an offer to be a reader for future auditions. "Once you are in the room as a reader, aside from it being a huge learning experience, you get to act all day long in great scenes and because you play every character, they get to see everything you can do." For a production of PYGMALION, he read as Eliza Doolittle, utilizing both a Cockney and a proper accent, then as Henry Higgins and then as Alfred Doolittle. "You do your homework the night before, preparing the scenes and accents, because people notice. It is also a great networking opportunity."

Has there been a time when Actors’ Equity helped you?
"Yes. I was injured in a show and Equity helped me navigate the world of workers’ compensation. During that same time, Equity referred me to the Actors Fund for further assistance and they were wonderful also. Equity has always been there to listen to anything and then figure out the best solution. I have also found show Deputies to be very helpful."

Any insights into negotiating?
Santino responded, "Gratefully my agent handles the majority of my negotiations, which is good because I have a hard time saying ‘no’."

How do you maintain the integrity of your performance over a long run?
Santino responded, "A long run can be really difficult. Obviously it’s difficult physically and vocally, but we’ve been trained how to manage and maintain our body and voice. But mentally, the repetition of a long run forces you to face the art and the artifice of what we do. You question ‘was I really listening or was I just doing what I did last night—am I not improvisatory’?" Gradually he realized that his "second guessing" was yet another part of learning his craft and that "when you know your relationships, your circumstances, and what you want, then you accept the mental challenge and find the art back through it. A long run makes you face not only your technique, but also your level of awareness and ability to allow real circumstances to affect what you are doing. You have to acknowledge that audiences differ and unexpected things happen on stage. It’s trial by fire and something you can’t be taught in school; weekend shows in college don’t prepare you. A lengthy run may cause you to wonder if you are a terrible actor, but in the end, it will make you a better actor."

He closed with a challenge: "Can you not care about ego and just do what you love to do? Just get to it—especially in the early stages of your career can you walk in and do what you do—what you love to do—not caring where the cards land."

Vincent Cinelli of the Equity-League Pension, Health and 401(k) Trust Funds provided information about qualifying for medical, vision, and dental coverage under the plan jointly administered by Producer/employer representatives and Equity. Members’ individual weeks of work under an AEA contract are reviewed quarterly, at which time the Fund determines if a Member has qualified for insurance. The current requirement is that if the Member has worked 12 weeks, they are eligible for six months of health insurance for a small quarterly premium; at 20 weeks of work, the Member qualifies for 12 months of coverage for the same premium.

The Fund is a separate entity from AEA and therefore any changes in address or contact information must be reported separately to both entities. For more information:

In addition, Renata Marinaro from the Actors Fund spoke about the organization as a nonprofit human services organization. The Actors Fund serves more than 12,000 performing arts professionals across the country every year, and hundreds of thousand through online resources. Renata specifically spoke about the Health Insurance Resource Center and the Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic. For more information about the services available through the Actors Fund go to their website at

NYC New Member Receptions are held several times a year. If you were unable to attend the most recent event, the next Reception will be held in the Fall. Watch Equity's website for date and time.

Santino Fontana is currently starring as The Prince in RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA. His Broadway credits include THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, for which he received a 2011 Clarence Derwent Award, BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, for which he received a 2010 Drama Desk Award, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL and the 2007 revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.

Off Broadway credits include Roundabout's acclaimed production of SONS OF THE PROPHET for which he received Lucille Lortel and Obie Awards, and Matt in the 2006 Off Broadway revival of THE FANTASTICKS.

Regionally he has performed at the Guthrie, the Old Globe, and the McCarter Theatres.

Film credits include Paramount’s Jack Ryan; Disney’s Frozen; and Nancy, Please.

On television he has been seen in The Good Wife; Nurse Jackie; A Gifted Man; Royal Pains; and Made in Jersey.

Mr. Fontana graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre Actor Training program. He received his Equity card in 2004.

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