Mary Lou Westerfield always wanted to be in the theater, but she never planned to dedicate her life to the industry. For the former Equity Western Regional Director/Assistant Executive Director, it just kind of happened. Of course, for her, with not one regret.
“I just wanted to work,” she said, “and I knew that meant I needed to be a member of Actors’ Equity. While working on various Equity contracts, I shared the stage with Councillors and with then-Equity president Theo Bikel. I was encouraged to join committees and run for Council. One year followed another; I kept putting one foot in front of another – I was a dancer after all – and the rest just happened.”
It’s Westerfield’s dedication, service, loyal nature and the admiration for her from her colleagues and peers that garnered her the 2014 Lucy Jordan Award.
The Award was started in 1992 to honor the legacy of Lucy Finney Jordan, a former ballerina and chorus performer who, for many years, was the “face” of Actors’ Equity in the Western Region as the union’s outside field rep. The award is given to those who demonstrate “a lifetime commitment to the theatre and especially, helping other theatre artists.”
Westerfield’s résumé at Equity, and otherwise, is impressive. Serving Equity members in capacities that spanned from Chorus Councillor to Second Vice President and then from National Director, Policy to the National Executive Team to Western Regional Director, Westerfield has been an Equity mainstay since 1973 when she proudly received her Equity card.
“Since becoming a member, she has been a workhorse – trustworthy and loyal – doing things that make a difference, often going above the jobs on Council and staff,” said Equity Councillor, James T. McDermott. “Mary Lou has supported all individuals within the arts industry to champion fairness in contractual coverage and benefits for all members of all performing arts unions, not just Actors' Equity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she has made herself available 24/7 to anyone who needs her or her advice - much like they did with Lucy Jordan.”
In addition to the time she put in with Equity, which includes serving as an original VITA volunteer in New York City and helping begin the VITA program at the Actors Fund in L.A., Westerfield has served as a board member and the 2nd vice president of Screen Actors Guild in New York; 2nd vice president of Theatre Authority, Inc.; founding board member of Career Transition for Dancers; International Executive Secretary of the 4As and member of the Western Council of The Actors Fund. She was also instrumental in creating affordable housing for performing artists. Longtime chair of the policy committee for Manhattan Plaza, she negotiated a 20-year agreement with the new owners to maintain that housing for performing artists.
“Lucy was a great person,” said Westerfield, “and as a staff member, she was loved and appreciated by members and producers alike. It’s truly an honor to get ‘her’ award. As a member of Equity, it makes me feel grateful to be honored this way. As a staff member, it makes me feel humble that members think I followed in Lucy’s footsteps and followed her example.”