Rema Webb has paved a career in Tony-winning productions like The Lion King and The Book of Mormon. She has showcased her range in The Color Purple and her humor in Escape to Margaritaville. Her decades-long career on Broadway has its roots in a backstage meeting while in the third grade.
Pittsburgh is the nucleus of Webb’s ambition when it comes to art and allyship. In 1976, Webb’s mother took her to the theatre to see Vivian Reed in Bubbling Brown Sugar. “She took me backstage to meet Vivian Reed. I can't even tell you,” Webb gushes. “There was no option for me. I just knew in my life I was going to sing, dance, and act somewhere.”
Less than a decade later, she heard another calling as the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to affect people in her hometown. “It was the ‘gay man's disease,’ it was the ‘Black people's disease’—that's pretty much how it was explained. The ‘drug user’s disease.’ Basically anyone who our society considered at that time depraved, it was their disease, and it didn't affect anyone else,” Webb recalls. “I have a sibling who is in the LGBTQ community, but we didn't talk about it. ... When I really became full ham is being a part of the BC/EFA Gypsy of the Year [now Red Bucket Follies], the Easter Bonnet, and having [Broadway Cares Executive Director] Tom [Viola] and all the people come over and talk about it.
“I was at that age where I had seen the progression of people pass away, I saw the horror of the disease get better. I saw people living with it,” she continues. “The fact that people were coming together to do something, to love on people and to love the community—because it could affect any one of us at any moment…that's when I think the Broadway community really helped me understand how important it was for me to be an advocate for HIV and the LGBTQ community.”
For over 20 years, Webb has participated in fundraising efforts through BC/EFA and through service as a member of Broadway Inspirational Voices. She has also dedicated her life to arts education, founding the On Broadway Performing Arts Training Program. As she says, “It's very important for me to mentor young people, to be a good example.”
Her dedication to speaking up and supporting those affected by HIV and AIDS is part of that example. “How could I compartmentalize it and not fight for it, not march right along with my brothers and sisters, not fight for my brothers and sisters, not speak up for my brothers and sisters, not raise as much money as I could from my brothers and sisters?”
Hear her full story—about finding her way to performing, about her Pittsburgh church upbringing and how it affects her service, and about what faith-based and non-faith-based communities can do to join and be an ally—in the video above. Plus, hear her exclusive performances of “I Am What I Am” and “Move On” in dedication to the community.