Interview with Maggie Phillips, AFTRA Member and Actors Fund Work Program (AWP) Participant

Here’s a great interview with one of our Actors Connection Voice Over teachers Maggie Phillips.  Maggie has been a professional actor since she graduated from high school.  Although Maggie is also a member of SAG and Equity, her first union card was AFTRA—which she received when casted in a principal commercial role for a local supermarket in her home town of Philadelphia.  Maggie works in all three jurisdictions, but proudly speaks of AFTRA being her first and her parent union.

The Actors Fund Work Program (AWP) supports its participants in identifying and finding meaningful work to complement their industry career or for a new career.

The following is an interview with Maggie, conducted by Kathy Schrier, the Director of The Actors Fund Work Program at our New York acting school.

Kathy Schrier:  How did you get involved in acting?

Maggie Phillips:  During my sophomore year in high school, I went on a field trip to the Philadelphia Academy of Music where Clare Bloom was doing A Doll’s House. Although our seats were in the heavens, when Ms. Bloom came on stage and did the tarantella-I was hooked.   I knew I would also be an actor.  During the rest of my high school years I acted in both straight plays and musical theater.  I also was committed to teaching from a young age, and went on to get a BS degree from Villanova University, majoring in theater communication education.

Kathy Schrier: I know you have committed a lot of time to your unions.  Why?

Maggie Phillips:  My dad was a union guy.  He worked for Ma Bell as a repair person, and was very active in his union.  I knew from a young age that workers needed representation and the importance of worker solidarity.   I also knew dating from my first AFTRA job, that actors are workers and also need a union.

Kathy Schrier:  How did you hear about AWP?  When did you come and why?

Maggie Phillips:  How did I hear about AWP-the way most of us do—through another actor!  I came to AWP in 2000 it was during the SAG commercial strike; of course this meant that I would/ could not take SAG jurisdiction work.  By this time, I had an established stage and voiceover career and quite frankly doing well financially. However, I knew that the issues that led to the 2000 strike were indicative of a changing business, and it would never be the same.    By 2000, cable had become a strong player in the broadcast industry, creating new union challenges.  Ironically, my dad’s union faced similar issues with the growth of wireless communication.  Since Regan fired the PATCO worker in 1981, we have seen a decrease in unionization in this country making it difficult for all unions, including the entertainment industry unions, to organize in the new economy.

Kathy Schrier:  What has AWP done for you?

Maggie Phillips:  Besides being an actor, I have also taught and coached acting, voice and speech privately, and on a secondary and college level.  When I first came to AWP, I thought I needed help on how to build upon that experience.  Working with my career counselor, I identified an interest in working with non-native English speakers, and took a course at Baruch College.  I was actually hired immediately after finishing, to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Baruch.

Kathy Schrier:  I know that you did other work with your AWP career counselor and participated in the “On the Fence Group” tell me about that.

Maggie Phillips:  About four years ago, I was seriously thinking about leaving the business and becoming a speech therapist.  With support from my career counselor, I began doing research, and she recommended my participation in “On the Fence””-an Actors Fund workshop for entertainment industry professionals with established careers who are considering a full career change.    My participation got me “off the fence” and gave me a vigorous renewed commitment to the industry and my work as an actor.  Ironically, after my participation in On the Fence, I saw an increase in my acting work.

Kathy Schrier:  I know you have gotten work through AWP as a fair housing tester and working on local political campaigns.  What skills from acting do you bring to this work?  How has this work affected your work as a union activist?

Maggie Phillips:  The only people working for the Fair Housing Justice Center as testers are actors who are members and were referred through AWP.  As testers, we are “acting” as potential renters or buyers with a specific set of given circumstances.    Although all of my acting skills come into play—remaining calm and centered, staying in character, utilizing observation and listening skills, and improvisational techniques there is one major difference.  This work is not fiction and my ability to obtain accurate non-prejudicial information has given critical support to those who have been victims of housing discrimination.  Also, through AWP I have been paid staff on several local political campaigns.  What I like best about this work, is educating the public about the issues facing our city.  My strong communication and observation skills as well as my commitment to making New York City even a better place to live, has made this great complementary work to my acting gigs

I see all this work as an extension of my commitment to the labor movement.  I got involved in the union because I believe that actors need to have decent and fair wages, hours and working conditions; as a fair housing tester, I do similar work for those seeking housing.

Kathy Schrier:  Any last comments?

Maggie Phillips:  What is great about AWP and the work it has provided to me it both complements my acting work in terms of scheduling flexibility, but it also allows me to utilize all my acting chops in work that I love and is important to me and the broader society.   All professional actors need AFTRA and The Actors Fund!

The Actors Fund is a national human service organization that helps all professionals in performing arts and entertainment.  The Fund is a safety net, providing programs and services for those who are in need, crisis or transition.  For more information call 212. 221 7300- or visit

To learn more about our upcoming voice over classes in New York, click on the Classes tab at the top of this page.

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