By Michael Gioia
28 Jun 2014
As Proposition 8 was being passed in California in 2008, Rory O'Malley, Gavin Creel and Jenny Kanelos were meeting at the Westway Diner on Ninth Avenue, where Broadway Impact, the first and only grassroots organization to mobilize the nationwide theatre community in support of marriage equality, was born.
"We started meeting at Westway Diner, where we just had breakfast again this morning," explained O'Malley, with a laugh. "Two things started at Westway Diner: Broadway Impact and 'Seinfeld' the sitcom… We just started to say, 'What could we do?' We had no idea what to do. We didn't know how to make a difference or what we were capable of, so we went to different organizations — LGBT organizations, such as HRC [Human Rights Campaign] and Marriage Equality New York and Empire State Pride Agenda — and we said, 'Where do the theatre people go? What should we do?' And they said, 'Do what everybody else does — write your letters…' There was nothing specific for the theatre community and how they should get involved, and we were like, 'We think that we're capable of a lot more than just showing up like everybody else. The theatre community is so powerful.'"
Around that time, Creel was cast in the 2009 Tony Award-winning revival of Hair, for which he later received a Tony nod for his performance as Claude, and the group of trailblazers thought that they could band the Broadway hippies together to forge a strong start to Impact.
The group's "coming out" party was Defying Inequality: The Broadway Concert — A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights, which featured a star-studded lineup of Broadway's best (including the cast of Hair) at the Gershwin Theatre, home of Broadway's Wicked. The February 2009 event led to a game-changing equality rally in Times Square.
O'Malley explained, "We knew there was a rally against marriage equality happening in May of 2009 — five years ago — and we said, 'Well, we have to do something in response,' so we walked into [Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS executive director] Tom Viola's office, and we told him this: 'We have to do something.' He said, 'Okay, well, we'll need a stage. We'll need this, this, this…' We [thought], 'Oh, God.'"Continued...