Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is so ingrained in the fabric of the national theatre community it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist.
Since its inception, the organization has donated $118 million to The Actors Fund and approximately $120 million to 473 service organizations, saving thousands of lives and supporting hundreds of thousands of people. Though BC/EFA is a behemoth of charitable giving today, upon its founding (or rather the founding of Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS) in 1988, humble bake sales and small flea markets and intimate cabarets rallied around one cause: HIV/AIDS.
“You cannot imagine the despair and the distress and the sorrow and the anger that overwhelmed. I mean, not just on Broadway in the theatre community, but the city... the country... around this issue,” says Tom Viola, who worked at Equity during the founding of Equity Fights AIDS and has been the executive director of the merged BC/EFA since 1996. In the video above, Viola rewinds to the earliest days of the crisis, describing the founding of the institution as well as his personal experiences with loss and the need for the non-profit.
“I had brunch with seven friends of mine at a restaurant ... we were also all making excuses as to why it wasn't going to be us,” Viola shares. “That was 1982, and there were eight of us at that table, all in the business somehow, or aspiring to be. By 1992, with the merger of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, of those eight, four were dead, and two, including myself, were HIV positive. So that’s how things rapidly, over ten years, became much more serious and changed.”
Of course, with the advent of medications, the future is very different from that peak, and BC/EFA continues to provide funds for life-saving medication to those in need, as well as offering meals, housing, healthcare, and more. “There's always an HIV component to pretty much everything we do, but that's because HIV is now part of an entire menu of challenges that communities will have.”