Alfaro, executive director of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), is taking a breather from his chores as producer of the First Annual Gala Awards for excellence in Spanish language theater. HOLA will present these awards Monday, March 20, at The Players on Gramercy Park South.
A veteran character actor, Alfaro has spent the last five years at the helm of HOLA, a nonprofit advocacy group serving Spanish-speaking, English-speaking, and bilingual actors. Stocky, with wavy, graying hair, Alfaro is built to play blue-collar dads and thugs; it's no surprise he was a wise guy in the movie Goodfellas.
"This happens a lot," he says, brandishing a glossy sheet with three black-and-white images. The three pictures aren't head shots; each shows the full, shapely body of a young woman, possibly a teenager, in poses that are provocative if not downright lewd. "It's sad," Alfaro continues. "Young people who want to go into the business find a photographer through an ad, and they end up paying up to $5,000 for 12 shots that are totally unusable, unsuitable. When someone like this comes to HOLA to put together a résumé, I have to tell her the photographer isn't adhering to industry standards. You can have a photo session with a legitimate theatrical photographer and get maybe 36 shots for $150. An actor needs photographs that show you as a human being, not as a little hussy. Your professional photos absolutely shouldn't suggest that you're selling sexual favors." Alfaro believes that Latino actors are more vulnerable to such scams than other newcomers because "they don't have money or access to expensive schools to help them attain their dream."
HOLA was founded 26 years ago by working actors to organize resistance to ethnic stereotypes in theater, television and movies, and to help young actors become established. Operating out of a tiny office in the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, a block west of Lincoln Center, HOLA offers job referrals and workshops on career-building topics, as well as one-on-one career counseling.
The organization's programs stress high professional standards. "In this business, you get paid for a job, you don't pay for work," Alfaro advises fledgling performers. "An agent is your employee--not the other way around. When you tell an agent you don't want to do something because it makes you uncomfortable, that agent is going to take you more seriously. He'll call you back, because, ahhh, this actor knows what he or she is about! Because of that, the agent is going to feel more secure sending you out."
Alfaro believes that HOLA's most important activity is its job referral service. "We give the entry-level actor and actors who aren't represented by an agent an opportunity to work in professional venues," he says. "Casting directors know we have a reliable pool of actors, and that we respond to their requests within an hour or two. We have a database of almost four thousand talented people in the industry. Today, we did three referrals."
Summing up HOLA's day-to-day impact, Alfaro beams like a proud father. "Latino actors--also black actors, by the way--are scarce on the unions' rolls. But there's a growing demand for them, and not enough union members to fill that demand. What's hard is for unknown actors and casting directors to find each other. Thanks to the HOLA referral program, lots of aspiring performers are getting SAG jobs and AFTRA cards and voice-over radio spots. It happens all the time."
With its First Annual Gala Awards this month, HOLA joins the ranks of worthy causes vying for the largesse of New York City's black-tie crowd. A highlight of the March 20th festivities will be Rita Moreno's presentation of an award bearing her name to actor Shawn Elliot in recognition of "his professional excellence and high standards in the accurate and non-stereotypical portrayal of Hispanic culture and people." For more information on HOLA and awards, click on page 2 below.