When Oak Park native Brando Crawford dropped out of high school to pursue a Hollywood career in acting, he was left disenchanted over how Hollywood was run. His frustration with the industry led him back to Oak Park to regain something he felt he lacked: control.
After four years of building and managing a real estate portfolio, Crawford has taken his passion for theater and persistence in business to launch a production company called Acting for a Cause.
Since late-March, Crawford has led six virtual play readings including “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Hamlet” through Zoom video conferencing. Academy Award-nominee Florence Pugh, “Stranger Things” star Natalia Dyer, and Brandon Flynn from “13 Reasons Why” have all joined Crawford’s project.
Being able to do what he loves on his own terms, Crawford has found comfort in the arts again.
“I realized how powerless I was in the industry and how it didn’t have the same priorities that I did,” said Crawford, who is also the co-founder of International Mansion, hosting The Language and Music School, located on 509 N. Oak Park Ave. “When I came back after becoming a businessperson, I went in putting producing as my first priority since producers are the only people who hold any sort of power in the direction of their careers in that industry. Whether it was conscious or subconscious, I wanted to return to the world of art with a sense of power and do it where arts and charity can meet.”
Crawford started a GoFundMe page the night before the first reading and, as the project has evolved, there has been a farther reach outside the greater Chicago area.
According to Acting for a Cause’s website and Crawford, 50 percent of the donations go to Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s West Side. The other half goes to Entertainment Industry Foundation which was founded by entertainment icons such as Humphrey Bogart and the Warner brothers.
Crawford said in an interview with Wednesday Journal on May 18 that each reading has generated “about $5,000” and that as he continues to organize these readings, he hopes to reach a $100,000 plateau.
“I benefited from consistent arts programs that changed my life,” said Crawford. “The programs that are funded by EIF impact people from when they are five years old to when they are in 12th grade. I think that’s better than programs that come in and out of someone’s life.”
Crawford went on to say that choosing Mount Sinai Hospital for the other half of donation money was an “easy decision.”
“We didn’t choose Northwestern for example because in Chicago, more than 75 percent of the reported [COVID-19] cases are from pretty low-income minorities,” said Crawford. “All hospitals need funds but I wanted to go to a hospital that statistically had the most people in need. I know someone who was born there so there was also a personal connection to something I am fighting for.”
With all of the success he had so far with raising money and parlaying this project into a production company, he is working around the clock to keep everything going. At the beginning, there was no perfect system to get this off the ground. Initially, his week started off by picking a play on Saturday, creating a list of artists he wanted to work with on Sunday before cold calling representatives of those artists on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are used to set the cast before Thursday’s rehearsal.
After the logistical chaos is sorted out, the final product comes out on Friday before the whole process starts over for planning the next reading.
“It’s hectic for sure,” said Crawford. “It’s also a nice distraction because, while I am working 18-hour days, I was still hurt on the real estate side where I would typically be showing people apartments all day. So while Acting for a Cause is something that takes up most of my time, it really helps with distracting me from being panicked about the other stresses that I am dealing with.”
While COVID-19 has impacted his business, Acting for a Cause is generating a lot of buzz to the point where Crawford is getting direct messages via social media from up and coming actors wanting to join in on one of Crawford’s production. For a production company that launched less than two months ago, Crawford seems to be heading in the direction he wanted to go in after his rude introduction to Hollywood.
“The feedback has been amazing,” said Crawford, who was featured in the Chicago Tribune recently. “I don’t know where it will take me like I said but at least one of the things that we’ve actually been able to do is to formalize Acting for a Cause as a production company. This is the direction my team wanted to go in. It’s going to be the first of many projects.”