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Posted February 10, 2006


VITA (Volunteer Information Tax Assistance) Program Assists Hundreds Of Actors, Stage Managers With Free Tax Advice

NYC VITA Open Now Through April 30th – Walk In Assistance Available Open Mondays, Wednesdays – Fridays (Closed Tuesdays)

(February 6, 2006) Like the perennial ground hog, the first Monday in February means it’s tax time for the volunteers at VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that is sponsored by AEA and other entertainment unions. This year, more than 300 Actors and Stage Managers signed up for appointments on “opening day” at the Equity offices on West 46th Street. Unlike some auditions, however, everyone “got the part” – in this instance, an appointment with a VITA-trained volunteer (often a fellow actor), who will help performers complete their complicated federal and state tax returns before April 15th.

Union members sign up for tax appointments with volunteers Linda Young and Jerry Cole

VITA-NY is one four sites in the US devoted exclusively to serving professional actors and stage managers as part of an IRS tax program. VITA is volunteer-run and receives support from Actors' Equity, AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and SAG (Screen Actors Guild). In 2005, VITA prepared 1,919 federal and 3,455 state and local tax returns for union performers. VITA programs are available to union members in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and Seattle.

Conard Fowkes, Co-Founder of the Actors’ Equity VITA site, commented: “Since 1979, VITA has helped actors save millions of dollars with legitimate deductions, and expenses, not to mention tax preparation fees. 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’. At VITA, we do it all.”

How complicated are actors tax returns?
In describing the complicated nature of an actor’s tax return, Fowkes cites the example of tours that perform across the country: “The performer will have taxes withheld in five, six or a dozen 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.”

VITA Co-Founder Conard Fowkes assists union member Tom King

Early Risers Return Year After Year
Stage manager-volunteer Paul Kochman arrived at 5:25 am to organize the crowd. “There were 10 people already lined up on West 46th Street. By the time we opened the building at 7 AM, there were about 170 on line, so we started the sign-up at 7:45. Within the first hour they scheduled almost 90 appointments. It all went really smoothly. Everyone was thankful and appreciative.”

Many of VITA’s clients return year after year. Equity member Mary Haddad came down from Massachusetts and showed up at 6:45 AM. She explained that this was her third year in a row with VITA: “This year, I worked on a cruise ship in Hawaii. The cruise line withheld federal taxes, but no state, so I knew I’d have to file an out-of-state return. VITA is amazing. I would rather come here at 6 AM and have them do it, than pay an incompetent tax preparer $400. I know they’ll do it right.”

Special thanks to volunteers Linda Carol Young, Carol Emshoff, John La Gioia

Frank Stellato has been coming to VITA for over 20 years, since the 80s. “I had another accountant and I used to get screwed until I came to VITA. I never took the right theatrical deductions! Here, everything is geared to the performer. I’ve always gotten a refund. This was my first really good year in the business. I did a lot of Law and Order episodes and got a part in a movie. I remember, years ago, I was having my taxes done by a volunteer named “Michael.” He did a really great job. In June, I was watching the Tony Awards and realized “Oh my God, that’s the guy who did my taxes! – the guy turned out to be Michael Mulheren, who was nominated for a Tony in KISS ME KATE.”

Tom King, arrived at “6-ish,” and was #55 in line. By 9:30, Mr. King was being processed by Conard Fowkes, Co-Founder of the VITA program, and was finished and out the door by 10:30. “I had very good 2005,” said King. “I booked a Principal Actor-Dancer on ABCs, My Kind of Town, and then I had a scene with Matt Damon in The Departed. I’ve used VITA about 6 or 7 times, and it’s always been rewarding. They really know what they’re doing, and their expertise is doing taxes for people in the arts. I think it’s a great program. Thank you, VITA.”

Amy Connor walked in at 8 am and was done by 9:30, thanks to volunteer Leonard Garbin. "Nobody does it better," says Ms. Connor

Amy Connor has been coming to VITA since 1987, when she first joined Equity. “I’ve literally grown up with VITA: first as a single tax-payer, then married, now with three dependents – including twins! VITA knows performing artists’ taxes like nobody else does. One year, I won $60,000 on a quiz show, and VITA helped me with the tax consequences. It’s amazing – and they do it for free ! I came here at 8 AM as a walk-in, and was finished by 9:30 am.”

Walk-ins are available every day (never on Tuesday) between now and April 30th. Fowkes encouraged union members “to come early and not wait until the last minute.” For further information about VITA, call 212-921-2548. VITA is located on the 14th floor at 165 West 46th Street.

Special thanks to this season’s VITA volunteers: Mohamed Abassi, Margo Avery, Susan Bigelow, Sandra M. Bloom, Dick Butler, Bill Cain, Bernadette Cancelliere, Jerry Alan Cole, Dru Dempsey, Betsy DiLello, Carol Emshoff, Elizabeth M. Flax, Conard Fowkes, Leonard Garbin, Ernie Green, Patricia Guinan, Yvette Heyliger, Mark Irish, Sandra Karas, Dodi Keenan, Ann Kittredge, Paul A. Kochman, John LaGioia, Neil Martin, Michael McKenzie, Michael Mulheren, Jody Myers, Valerie Niccore, Marchand Odette, Tony Paccione, Jodie Prusan, Susan Sigrist, Nancy Slusser, Gordon Stanley, Carla Torgrimson, Mary Lou Westerfield, and Linda Carol Young.

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