On Dec. 6 and 7, the theatre community will gather in Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre and do what it does best: put on a show! This annual event, known as the "Gypsy of the Year" competition, is a vaudeville revue representing the best of those playing the boards. And while this extraordinary insider show-biz production is first-rate, the most important aspect of the show goes far beyond the greasepaint and glitter.
Now in its 22nd year, Gypsy of the Year honors the workhorses of the stage — the gypsies, or singers and dancers of the chorus — and is the culmination of weeks of fundraising for the community's premier nonprofit organization, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
This fundraising takes place over a six-week period in which actors from Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows take a moment at curtain call to encourage audience members to support BC/EFA.
Actors have raised money in amazing ways, literally selling the nose off their faces (as was the case when Kevin Kline starred in Cyrano de Bergerac), the pants off their legs (see: Daniel Radcliffe auctioning off his jeans during his run in Equus), or the shirts off their backs (like Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig did during A Steady Rain). With A Steady Rain, the chance to meet two of Broadway's hottest leading men and take home their freshly worn t-shirts paid off handsomely. The duo ended up raising over $1.5 million for Broadway Cares, more than any one show in the history of the program. Each appeal is a company effort that goes well past the footlights. "Audience appeals are made possible by the entire community," says Tom Viola, BC/EFA executive director and 2010 Tony Award honoree. "Without the generous permission of theatre owners and producers and the efforts of stage management, crew, musicians, wardrobe, hair personnel, house managers, ushers, as well as the actors making the pitch and joining BC/EFA volunteers with buckets in the lobby, this fundraising opportunity would not be possible.
"Last year Broadway Cares awarded $5.3 million to over 400 AIDS and family service organizations across the country and another $4.1 million to the social service programs of The Actors Fund, serving all theatrical professionals."
With so many still facing the serious challenges of living with AIDS and other serious illness, Viola attests that the much-needed money is doing tremendous good for many facing a variety of challenges in difficult times. "The $1, $5 or $20 that audience members toss in a bucket makes a difference. It adds up and creates a vital safety net of support for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, families of every variety."
A safety net for many...all made possible with the help of a jazz hand or two.
(This feature appears in the November 2010 Playbill that is distributed in Broadway theatres. Frank DiLella is a producer of NY1's "On Stage" program.)