There's an extra buzz backstage this time of year. Cast and crew members are carefully crafting their encores for each night's audience, customizing the script, dividing up parts and finishing unique props for a special, twice-a-year production: the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS audience appeals.
For six weeks cast members at participating shows step out during the curtain call to invite the audience to open its heart (and wallet) to men, women and children across the country struggling with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. By filling BC/EFA's famous red buckets with ones, tens, twenties and the occasional Benjamin, theatregoers help the organization maintain a safety net of social services for those who need it most.
Contributions help buy medicines and counseling for those who would otherwise do without.
They keep the doors open at a health clinic or a food pantry. They provide diapers for a child and bus fare to a recovery meeting. In these times of continued economic hardship, your donations make it possible for BC/EFA to reach those who do not have the resources or blessings that many of us can be thankful for.
But audience appeals are also a competition. A lot of heart goes into these efforts as shows try to out-fundraise each other. Each cast delivers an audience appeal in its own unique way; some are heartfelt, some quite humorous.
During the collections this spring, the cast of The Book of Mormon jokingly reminded audiences, "If you could afford $450 tickets to a show, you can afford to donate a dollar to Broadway Cares."
Actors take time backstage to autograph show posters and Playbills, which are sold in exchange for a donation. Company members also meet and take photos with generous supporters after the show. Companies often create unique items to help in their fundraising efforts. Mary Poppins has offered a "practically perfect" cookbook and The Lion King often has hand-beaded ornaments made in South Africa through a donation-funded work program for HIV-positive women.
Last year, audience appeals periods raised an important two-thirds of the more than $9.3 million distributed by Broadway Cares. That money goes to more than 500 AIDS and family service organizations around the country and The Actors Fund, the employee assistance program of the entertainment industry whose vital programs include the HIV/AIDS Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic.
Each appeal is truly a company effort. Hundreds of talented and generous theatre Professionals — including theatre owners, producers, stage managers, crew members, musicians, wardrobe, hair personnel, house managers, ushers and, of course, the actors — make this vital fundraising possible. The culmination of these efforts will bring the theatre community together Dec. 3-4 at the New Amsterdam Theatre for the 24th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition.
The generosity of spirit shown onstage, backstage and from audiences throughout Broadway is BC/EFA's greatest blessing. It is a rare and invaluable resource that continues to prove, show by show, season after season, that what we do together makes a difference.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS announced Nov. 2 that a portion of proceeds currently being raised by Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies during the six-week fall fundraising efforts will be donated to three relief agencies committed to helping victims of Hurricane Sandy. Read more about that here.