Actor James Babbin volunteers for The Actors Fund Work Program to teach the Basic Computer Class at The Fund’s Los Angeles office. He recently sat down with AWP Western Region Director John Mattson to share a bit about his life in the industry, and to tell us why he loves helping people in our entertainment community brush up their computer skills.
John Mattson: James, tell us about your acting career in New York, versus what it’s like to work here in LA.
James Babbin: I think I’ve always been a Californian living somewhere else, and being back in LA – enjoying the California lifestyle – just adds a level of comfort to the process of acting. I think the work remains the same, whether you’re in large or small theatres, and people are extremely devoted to their craft on both coasts. Here in LA, actors are able to branch-off into film and television work, which I really love, especially since TV combines the routine and intensity of theatre with the technology of film. In LA, you know that if one audition doesn’t go well, another good one will happen very soon. And there is also a great entrepreneurial spirit in the Web world, which is also very exciting.
JM: What motivated you to volunteer for teaching the Basic Computer class at The Actors Fund in LA?
JB: I had been a client of The Actors Fund Work Program in New York, and they provided great personal support and concrete advice for obtaining sideline work. At one point in time, when I had some personal and financial challenges that needed to be addressed, The Actors Fund was there for me. I always wanted to give back in some way, so, when the opening in my schedule happened, I just jumped at the chance to volunteer. Since technology and computers have given me so much personally and professionally, I wanted to help others get acquainted with using technology. It’s rewarding to see people pick up the basic skills and gain confidence to take their knowledge further. And it’s great to work with all people in our industry, not just actors. The Actors Fund is for all entertainment professionals, and becoming more connected to the community is very fulfilling. If we don't look after ourselves, no one will.
JM: How do you manage to balance your acting work, sideline jobs and volunteering?
JB: As a graphic designer, I’ve worked both as a freelancer and a full-time employee. I think the key is to let your employers know that they can count on you, that you understand their business practices, and that you are attentive to their needs – even though you have an acting career as well. If I work full time, then I immerse myself in the day job for the first few months. Once people know they can depend on you, they become more flexible. When you are only booking the smaller roles – which typically shoot for one or two days – you can use vacation time.
JM: Tell us about your latest role in a new adaptation of Cyrano that you are performing at The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre.
JB: American Sign Language (ASL) becomes the language of love in this modern sign language spin on a classic love story. Cyrano is a brilliant deaf poet hopelessly in love with a beautiful hearing woman who doesn't know sign language – and who is in love with his hearing brother. Since the hearing actors speak their lines as the deaf actors sign, it blends together and becomes a full theatrical experience for all audiences. Also, the adaptation happens to explore how technology helps and harms our communication in the modern era. It’s artistically the most challenging thing I have ever done and the most rewarding. In my role, I have to match the impulses and emotions of my deaf counterpart and, as a result, have the complete emotional experience as well. Merging the hearing and non-hearing worlds is absolutely beautiful.
JM: James, thank you so much for sharing your experiences as an actor and for volunteering for AWP. Given your volunteer experience, what advice would you give to anyone looking to do volunteer work?
JB: Volunteering is a great way to augment your skills, explore your interests and become a greater part of the community. We all bring something to the table and have something to offer. Think about your own goals and the organization’s mission, and that could lead you to a great match. And, as with everything you do, try to find the perfect role.
AWP maintains computer labs where you can access the web to look for work. FREE training is also available for members at all levels of computer ability. Visit AWP today to learn more about free computer classes, workshops, groups, networking events and many other creative ways to help you “find the work you love, and love the work you find.”
We are proud to present The Actors Fund Podcast Series, offering valuable information based on workshops The Fund offers in our New York and Los Angeles offices. Stay tuned for more to come in the series!