Tom Viola, Producing Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, appeared in a Playbill On-Line chat April 4. He chatted about BC/EFA's objectives and what the 40-plus companies of Broadway, off-Broadway and National touring shows are doing to raise money to built the hats for the 10th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition, April 8 and 9.
The chat was hosted by Playbill On-Line's Associate Editor Katia Lundy. An edited transcript follows.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the entertainment industry's most active and vital organization working to address the challenges of HIV and AIDS and Tom Viola is currently steering it in all the right directions.
As Actors Equity Special Projects Coordinator, Tom produced the Union's 75th Anniversary events, including its 75th Anniversary Gala and worked as Colleen Dewhurst's assistant. As administrative Director of Equity Fights AIDS, he produced or facilitated the production of scores of EFA events nationwide, prior to its successful merger in May, 1992 with Broadway Cares.
Because of the outstanding celebrity support, incomparable theatrical expertise and the phenomenal commitment of thousands of rank and file members of the industry, BC/EFA has raised and distributed millions in the fight against AIDS in a variety of exciting and innovative ways.
One of these exciting and innovative BC/EFA fundraisers which we will be discussing tonight is the 10th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition. So, without further ado, let me introduce Tom Viola to further enlighten us.
: Hi Tom, welcome to Center Stage. I'm glad you could be here.
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Hi Katia. Glad to be here.
Playbill On-Line: Tom, we keep telling people that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is a necessary and important organization in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Can you give a little background for those who are not really familiar with it?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Sure. BC/EFA is the theatre community's aids fundraising organization. We assist both those in our industry through the social services of The Acotors' Fund of America, as well as giving grants to over 200 local AIDS service providers across the nation. I'm real proud that we do both.
Playbill On-Line: As the Producing Director of BC/EFA, what exactly do you do for the organization?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Perhaps you should ask my staff? No, really, I oversee - and assist a team of producers in working with the theatre community in fundraising events and efforts. In addition, I pay close attention to our grants making process. And frankly, I'm there to help anyone on staff or off to do what they can to help us raise funds. I should add, however, that I work with a group everyday of very talented and committed people - without whom my efforts would be for naught.
Playbill On-Line: The Annual Easter Bonnet Competition has become one of the hottest BC/EFA tickets of the Broadway season. What sort of surprises will be unleashed at this year's Easter Bonnets?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): I love this event. It's one of our biggest of the year. It works like this: For six weeks the companies of Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring shows raise money at their theatres through audience appeals and poster sales. At the same time, someone on the company - most often in the hair or wardrobe department is designing and making some wildly outrageous Easter-type bonnet. We all come together for two performances to parade the bonnet and celebrate our fundraising - which last year totalled over $1,100,000. This event is an incredible express of the theatre community's support for BC/EFA and commitment to extending their hands to those living with HIV/AIDS and in some sort of crisis. Also, I should add, that thanks' to the support of the owners of the Palace Theatre -the Nederlander Organization and the wonderful folks at Walt Disney Theatrical - this event just costs us about $60,000 to produce. If any of you out there are event-producers or fundraisers, I'm sure you'll agree that this is quite an outstanding production ratio. Toot! That was my own horn.
Playbill On-Line: Excuse us folk, Tom Viola got bumped off. He'll be back in a moment. Hey Tom, Where'd you go?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): I guess I fell off the stage. I'm the Ann-Margret of on-line.
Playbill On-Line: LOL. So, where were we?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Good question. In fact, are there any questions. have any of you out there ever heard of BC/EFA or been to one of our events? Have any of you seen Babe?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): I loved it.. And in fact I intend to use some of the score- that I just got on CD over the weekend - as closing music for the Easter Bonnet show. My staff will love this.
Playbill On-Line: Hey Tom, didn't U say you knew some secrets about NBC's "Friends" cast?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Don't set me up -for what you don't want to hear.
Playbill On-Line: This comes from DeLongpre
Question: Hi Tom...what are your plans for the upcoming season?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Thanks. Actually we've got two great events coming in the next two months. The first is BROADWAY BARES - "Less is More" It's a fabulous striptease/vaudeville that will be presented at NYC's Palladium Sunday, May 5. For tickets call the office. Then in June - June 10 to be exact - we are presenting Betty Buckley in concert at Carnegie Hall. This will be an incredible evening - much like one she
BCEFA (Tom Viola): did for the BBC while in London doing SUNSET.
Playbill On-Line: A p.s. from DeLongpre
Comment: And I loved Babe.
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Tell your friends. Who was your favorite character. I liked the duck.
Playbill On-Line: Delongpre is back with
Question: Who all is going to be involved in the Easter Bonnet gala?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Well, in addition to the casts of about 20 Broadway and off Broadway shows - our hosts are Marsha Mason, Davis Gaines - (the Phantom), Tony Roberts, Donna McKechnie, Carol Channing, John Cullum, Lynn Redgrave, Alan Campbell and a few surprises that I can assure you will knock you socks off!
Playbill On-Line: What's the most popular BCEFA function?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Lunch.
BCEFA (Tom Viola): No, seriously, I would hesitate to name any one event my favorite, I think is always the one we're working on. But I think - popular within the casts, is whatever is going on that allows them to be creative in their individual fundraising efforts.
Playbill On-Line: From DL
Question: I'm a big Betty Buckley fan...she seems to be a big supporter if BC/EFA....are there any other stars planning shows like her Carnegie Concert?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): First of all, Betty has been wonderful to us. And, you know, when you consider the emotional and physical toll of doing eight shows a week in that role, her willingness to jump into our efforts is especially thrilling. Now, Carnegie Hall? No, at this point Betty is the first - but I'm already thinking about what we might do next May. Who would you love to hear?
Playbill On-Line: From Eamcanfly
Question: So explain exactly what you do...and when is the next event?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): BC/EFA raises funds nationally through the very ingenious and creative efforts of the American theatre community. This money then help us assist anyone in the entertainment industry living with HIV/AIDS, as well as going out as grants to over 200 local AIDS service organizations. in fact, just last month we distributed $670,000 to 215 AIDS service groups nationwide. There's always something going on. many of the national tours have special cabarets going up in the cities they visit. In NYC - our next event is BROADWAY BARES - that's just what it says, bares...as in not alot of clothing - but always in good taste - and some very hot dancing from men and women in the choruses of a number of musicals. May 5th! At the Palladium. Call (212) 840-0770 for tickets. Have to do this - blatant promotion is a big part of the job.
Playbill On-Line: Oink, oink, more "Babe" stuff, (Tom is a big pig fan folks)
Comment: I loved the Duck! And the Mother dog...but all the characters were great...
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Fly was wonderful. But my favorite moment was when her husband dog - decided to do something nice and ran to get the secret password from the sheep. But got their attention by saying '"All right you morons." Some habits are just hard to break.
Playbill On-Line: Okay enough of this Babe stuff. I feel so left out, I haven't seen the movie yet. On a serious note, I heard you have a literary project in the works about Obie, Tony and Emmy award winning actress, Colleen Dewhurst. Tell us about it.
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Sure. I'm currently finishing a project I began with Colleen Dewhurst - her autobiography. I was her assistant at Actors' Equity for a few years, while she was President of the union. During that time, for about fourteen months, she and I completed about 3/4 of the manuscript. Sadly, she then got sick and could not continue. Her sons, Alex and Campbell and I have nearly completed what she could not - by interviewing a few dozen of her friends and co-workers who relate "remembrances" of her in those places where she cannot tell her own story. I miss her very much. I know that she would love the work that we do at BC/EFA. In fact, when she died, a friend of mine said "Colleen Dewhurst was the best friend a person with AIDS ever had." I think he was right.
Playbill On-Line: This q's from Eamcanfly
Question: When is Broadway on Broadway? does that come from your organization?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Broadway on Broadway is a big show done outdoors in July in the middle of Times Square. It's wonderful and features many Broadway stars. It's not, however, one of our events. But - I can see it out my office window when it happens.
Playbill On-Line: This question is from Seholler
Question: I live too far away to ever take advantage of any of the fun things that are scheduled -is there any thought of having silent auctions with mail in bids and such?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for asking. Our Broadway Flea Market is scheduled for September 28. It includes The Grand Auction. If you E-mail me at BCEFA@AOL.COM I can send you information about how you receive the auction list in advance to place on-line bids.
Question: BC/EFA is such a unique org....why do you think there isn't a similar one in the film industry which has a larger audience and more money???
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Oh my. Well, I don't think - first of all - that it is really for lack of interest or support. I think it's partly due to how the two industry's actually work. In theatre - you spend time, often lots of time during a long run, with the same people, day after day, all working together. You really do become a sort of family. I think this closeness, engenders a feeling and creates a place where people will pitch in together to do this kind of special fundraising - And I mean everyone from stars to chorus, stage crew, ushers, musicians, wardrobe and hair personnel. I think the atmosphere on a film set - just doesn't lend itself to the same efforts. Although - I wish they would try to invent for themselves something that would work - as we did.
Playbill On-Line: Q from DeLongpre
Question: What is your favorite play? We know you like "Babe," but how about theater?
BCEFA (Tom Viïla): I just saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - it was delightful. Not highbrow, not snooty, very funny and for me, who never read the play when I was supposed to in high school, like a brand new experience. I love "Les Miserables." It's probably my favorite of all those "event" musicals.
Playbill On-Line: Well, we are just about out of time. Thank you Tom for stopping by. Any closing comments?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Sure, you know I joke around a lot here because I think it's real important that while we remember so many who are no longer with us and try to deal with the sadness and anger of that - that we celebrate being alive and take whatever joy can be found in helping another. So, I hope that for any of you out there - that even if your path never crosses that of BC/EFA - that you will look around and see how you can have some effect - make some difference in your neighborhood. It really is only about doing what you can, where you are. I'm here in NYC working with a community of theatre artists whose incredible generosity gives me a home and place to express my eagerness to help. This same kind of place exists for you there - wherever you and your keyboard are. I hope this chat - BABE and all - will prompt you to look around and take some action.
Playbill On-Line: So if people want to get more info or lend a helping hand, whom should they contact?
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Finally, if any of you would like more information about BC/EFA please Email BCEFA @ AOL.COM or call the office at (212) 840-0770. What we do together makes a difference.
Playbill On-Line: Thanks again Tom. Thanks must also go to Barbara Corrigan Fehribach for being here to hold Tom's hand
Playbill On-Line: Good night!
BCEFA (Tom Viola): Wait a minute. I was typing with both hands. What are you trying to say?
Playbill On-Line: It's a figure of speech.
Playbill On-Line: And remember, Playbill On-Line is your # 1 theatre information source. Keyword: Playbill. Check it out! Ciao for now.
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