Working Theater honored two individuals who have bridged the gap between labor and the arts on June 3 at its annual Bridge Awards and Benefit.

The Bridge Awards and Benefit provide an opportunity for the labor-focused theater company to recognize notable labor leaders, take stock of its own achievements and highlight some of the cutting-edge programs it has on the horizon.

During the ceremony, it recognized SAG-AFTRA’s New York Local Executive Director Rebecca Damon and Michelle Zettergren, president of the Labor and Public Sector at MagnaCare, an insurance company that provides services to the labor community. The two honorees spoke to the values they share with the theater company.

“Their productions amplify the stories of working people and give voice to the power of labor. In this way, Working Theater’s plays do more than entertain, but they also educate and inspire action,” said Zettergren in her acceptance speech.

In her role with MagnaCare, Zettergren works to personalize service to unions and labor clients. Its founder Anthony Bacchi, a former medical director with the Hotel Trades Council, started the company in the early ’90s with a mission to  to reduce healthcare-associated costs for organized labor. Throughout her tenure, Zettergren has increased the amount of funding that the organization gives to support Working Theater.

Working Theater’s Board President Bill Henning said that the organization chose the other recipient Damon because of her leadership through last year’s SAG-AFTRA strike — the longest in the union’s history — which included first-ever protections for actors against artificial intelligence and a historic pay increase.

“Rebecca Damon represents what we like to call labor summer 2023,” Henning said.

As the New York City executive of SAG-AFTRA, Damon serves the union membership of around 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, program hosts and other media professionals. She said that her role has taught her about the importance of performing arts for working people — especially the members of SAG-AFTRA who survive from one gig to the next.

“They might be in a Broadway show and then months later not be able to afford to go to the Broadway show,” Damon said. “We talk about how the cost of living is surpassing wages. We talk about the intersection of these multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerates. And the balance of that at the end is unions.”

The theater also recognized the present and future recipients of its playwriting commission. This past year Valerie Knight, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Harrison Magee, a member of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, each got a chance to work on new plays in coordination with the theater through a program that was created in honor of Working Theater’s late Producing Artistic Director, Mark Plesent.

The theater’s Managing Director Kylee Brinkman and Artistic Director Colm Summer announced that the future recipients of next year’s commission will go to working class artist AG Norton and Alex Rodriguez, a participant in the TheaterWorks! program.

“We must imagine a future for veterans of the company like Alex and newcomers alike. And I’m so honored tonight to introduce you both to the extended Working Theater family,” Summers said.

Rebecca Damon
Michelle Zettergren.
Working Theater leaders Colm Summers, left, and Kyle Brinkman, right


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