Adam Lawrence and VITA volunteer Leonard Garbin
Tiffany Quist, Jeffrey Fiancé, Matt Tinker, Christina Pawl got to VITA before dawn
Vita Volunteer Dick Butler and Randy Aaron
VITA Co-Founder Conard Fowkes and Les McDonough
April 15, 2004
VITA (Volunteer Information Tax Assistance) Provides Valuable Assistance To Over 1500 Performers As April 15th Deadline Arrives
Countdown to T-Day!
Over 4500 Federal, State, and Local Tax Returns Prepared For Free!
Need help? VITA remains open weekdays (except Tuesdays) Through April 30, 2004, and is open every Thursday the rest of the year. For more information, call 212-921-2548.
April 15, 2004 Equity’s VITA (Volunteer Information Tax Assistance) office was buzzing with activity, as the April 15th deadline for filing 2003 tax returns arrived. Volunteers were busy with dozens of last minute tax returns, while outside the office, more than 70 performers waited patiently (and sleepily) to be seen by one of VITA’s dedicated staff members, including VITA co-founders Conard Fowkes, and Linda Carol Young. The office was open by 8 AM (2 hours ahead of schedule) to accommodate the last minute rush.
Adam Lawrence, an Equity member since 2002, showed up at 4 AM to get his spot in line for the tax countdown on April 14th. This is his first visit to the VITA office, which he heard about last year when he was touring in BLUES CLUES LIVE.
“I couldn’t use VITA because I was on the road last year, so I had to mail my forms in to an accountant,” said Adam. “It was very expensive. This year, because of the tour, I had 18 state forms, plus all my expenses like headshots, dresser tips and audition clothes. I’m saving a bundle by using VITA,” he added thankfully.
VITA is one of two or three sites in the United States devoted exclusively to serving professional Actors and Stage Managers as part of an IRS tax program. VITA is a volunteer run organization and receives support from Actors' Equity, AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and the GIAA (Guild of Italian American Actors). Given the challenging, transient nature of the entertainment industry, Actors may have tax returns from several different states, numerous employers (including some that have gone out of business) and high expenses that relate to "getting the job."
But just how complex are Actors’ taxes? “Very complicated,” says VITA Co-Founder Conard Fowkes, who cites the example of national tours that go around the country. “An Actor or Stage Manager will have taxes withheld in five, six, up to 20 different states. Of course, he/she must then prepare returns for each of those states. More complications arise for performers who work overseas, in the UK or Canada, where foreign taxes are withheld. Unemployment benefits, which many Actors rely on between acting jobs, are taxed by the federal government and by some states, but not all.”
Hunched over paperwork and piles of receipts, VITA volunteer Leonard Garbin helped Adam prepare returns from all over the country: Alabama, California, Iowa, Oregon, Louisiana, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado and Nebraska. “The tour lasted for six months, we were in a different city every week, sometimes, twice a week,” said Adam. The good news is I think I’m going to get money back! I think it’s wonderful that the Union offers VITA to everyone for free, especially in an industry where over 85% of the people are out of work. Instead of paying an accountant, you get to keep your money. I’m definitely planning to come back next year.”
Tiffany Quist, Jeffrey Fiancé, Matt Tinker and Christina Pawl all got to VITA before dawn. Jeffrey said he was back for his fifth year, with, “ a very complicated return for my acting and directing work.” This was Tiffany’s first appointment with VITA, and she was eager to have her taxes prepared. “I don’t think it’s going to be too bad, I just wish I was more prepared. It’s phenomenal that we have this resource for Actors,” she remarked. Christina was back for her third season with VITA, “with a lot of 1099’s!”
Volunteer Dick Butler was working with Actor Randy Aaron, who arrived at 6:00 AM. It was Randy’s second VITA season. “For some reason, I always get money back from my Federal return, and I always owe the state,” said Randy. “It’s my fault, because I wasn’t keeping track of my expenses. This year, I’m staring off really well, with the lots of receipts. I need to get a filing system.”
Luckily, Randy only had two out-of-state returns, from jobs in Seattle and Boston. “I did A CHORUS LINE at the Fifth Avenue Theatre and MEMPHIS at the North Shore in Beverly, Massachusetts – it was a good year,” he said, adding: “I really appreciate VITA. Being an actor, you never really know where your next job is coming from, but VITA is always there.”
Another BLUES CLUES LIVE alumnus, Meyer Deleeuw, had his taxes prepared at the end of March. It was also his first time at VITA. “I first heard about VITA when I was at NYU,” said Meyer, who joined Equity in 2001. “I was in the CAP 21 program at Tisch School of the Arts, and our instructor told us about VITA when we were learning about the business of acting. My friends also raved about it.”
“My VITA volunteer was great,” Meyer added. “She was a Stage Manager and knew a lot about the business. I went in and sat down and said I didn’t know anything about taxes, and she talked me through everything. Besides being an Actor, I’m also a musician – so I was able to deduct my guitar, as well as voice lessons, classes, and little things like taxi rides to get to auditions.” I also had to file 19 different state returns. VITA was very helpful.”
Betsy DiLellio has done her taxes at VITA since 1998 and also volunteers. “I sit at the desk and explain how to fill out the VITA worksheets, so that the actors are prepared when they come in for an appointment.” This year, her tax return had 16 state forms. “I was on tour with DORA THE EXPLORER LIVE, and we played a lot of split weeks. Even though I owed tax in some states and got a refund in others, overall, I came out on the plus side. I don’t know what we would do without VITA – it’s a lifesaver for a lot of actors.”
“By the end of the month, VITA will have assisted more than 1500 performers, with over 4500 tax returns. In fact, since 1979, VITA has helped Actors save millions of dollars with legitimate deductions and expenses, not to mention tax preparation fees,” said Fowkes.
Actors’ Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg noted: “VITA has been a vital asset to our members for over 20 years. It is an indispensable resource for our members, and I salute our volunteers, who have been working tirelessly to assist the ever-increasing number of Actors who are filing returns.” He added that, “Equity is a service organization for Actors and Stage Managers. An Equity card permits access to a breadth of benefits, and VITA is a wonderful aspect of union membership.”
Need help? VITA remains open weekdays (except Tuesdays) through April 30, 2004, and is open every Thursday the rest of the year. For more information, call 212-921-2548.
Special thanks to this year’s volunteers: Mohamed Abassi, Sandi Bloom, Dick Butler, Bill Cain, Dru Dempsey, Betsy DiLellio, Carol Emshoff, Elizabeth Flax, Conard Fowkes, Leonard Garbin, Ernie Green, Pat Guinan, Yvette Heyliger, Mark Irish, Dodi Kenan, Darri Lawrence, John LaGioia, Neil Martin, Mike McKenzie, Andy Murphy, Jody Myers, Merchand Odette, Tony Paccione, Jody Prusan, Valerie Nicore, Susan Sigrist, Nancy Slusser, Gordon Stanley, Mary Lou Westerfield and Linda Carol Young, and Joe Zaloom.