With Hamilton Shout-Out, Broadway Cares Uses the Spotlight to Further HIV Efforts

Kevin Thomas Garcia

It was the curtain call heard around the world. Last month, Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr in the popular musical Hamilton_, delivered a statement on behalf of the cast and producers of the popular musical to audience member Vice President-elect Mike Pence. President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a demand for an apology, while Pence said he was not offended._

Dixon's statement ended with a pitch for support for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), the longstanding and unique entity that provides grants to HIV groups as well as support to the Actors Fund, the employee assistance program of the entertainment industry. Tis the season when BC/EFA reaches out to Broadway audiences; these on-the-spot requests for support from the stage of the nation's top theaters generate millions of dollars for HIV efforts.

TheBody.com reached out to Tom Viola, the executive director of BC/EFA, to learn more.

BC/EFA is a unique group because you're embedded in Broadway and the theater world. How did that start? Has it changed through the years?

Tom Viola
Tom Viola
Kevin Thomas Garcia

BC/EFA has been extraordinarily fortunate to have sprung from and continued to maintain and enjoy an incredible relationship with the Broadway and off-Broadway communities here in NYC, as well as with the national tours and theaters across the country. That began in the late '80s at the height of the epidemic when much of our work was simply triage, trying to raise funds for emergency services for the sick and dying.

It has grown to becoming the major funder of the Actors Fund, the employee assistance program of the entire entertainment industry, plus running an annual National Grants Program that reaches out to more than 450 social service agencies across the country. Last year, BC/EFA awarded over $12 million in grants: $5.6 million to the Actors Fund and another $6.5 million through the National Grants Program.

How does BC/EFA serve and work with actors with HIV?

Through the HIV/AIDS Initiative of the Actors Fund, BC/EFA supports services for anyone living with HIV/AIDS in the theater community -- not just actors. The Actors Fund was founded by actors in 1986. Today it reaches out to all in the entertainment industry and performing arts. On stage, behind the scenes: all.

In 2016, BC/EFA awarded $2 million to the HIV/AIDS Initiative of the Actors Fund, and we've given over $48 million since 1988.

How does BC/EFA marshal the resources of the theater world and theatergoers?

In many difference ways, including events, special fundraising initiatives, major donor support and corporate sponsorship. But what folks may know best are the appeals done from the stage on Broadway, off-Broadway and by national touring shows for two six-week fundraising campaigns in the spring and fall. Last year's two fundraising campaigns in the theaters raised over $9.5 million of the $18 million raised in total last year. It's the backbone of all we do.

Are there other examples of actors, producers or others in the theater world using their voices or clout on political issues, particularly on HIV issues?

Whether it is perceived by the audience as such or not, making an appeal to support AIDS services and the many other organizations we fund is speaking out on behalf of those without the means or access to power to do so.

Our appeals are not constructed or intended to be public service announcements. We are asking folks to join us in showing gratitude for our good fortune by sharing some of their resources with those facing a wide variety of challenges, all of which are exacerbated by HIV/AIDS.

The Broadway community stood together for people living with AIDS when many across the country still ignored the issue. Individual actors, producers and theater professionals showed great courage and compassion in doing so when others were quick to scorn them. While that has changed considerably, there is still a great but quiet stigma that challenges anyone living with AIDS. I'm very proud that as public opinion has raged and waned, the commitment shown by the theater community has not.

Has there been an increase in donations since that night at Hamilton?

Hamilton is an extraordinary show. Both in its artistic excellent and brilliance of performance, and in terms of the show's extraordinary generosity of spirit and commitment to diversity and social justice. Donations have remained the same because the cast's dedication to good will to all has never wavered no matter who is in attendance.

What is the role of BC/EFA and other HIV foundations and how does it change in times of politically conservative administrations?

Just simply speaking up, refusing to be shut down and continuing a commitment to good work as a social service provider, advocate or activist makes a difference -- in small ways perhaps but, with time, in ways that together cannot be overlooked, denied or stomped out.

As they sing in Avenue Q: "Donald Trump is only for now!"

Broadway Bares fundraiser
One of many steamy moments from Broadway Bares 2016
Billy Bustamante

Every year, you do the Broadway Bares fundraiser. How do you describe it, and what's up for the next one?

Broadway Bares is one of BC/EFA's most iconic fundraisers. It began by Tony Award winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell dancing on the bar at Splash in Chelsea with seven of his chorus dancer friends when he was a dancer in the Will Rogers Follies in 1990, raising $12,000. It's grown to over 200 dancers taking the stage of the Hammerstein Ballroom for two sold out performances of more than 5,000, 27 years later -- raising more than $1.4 million last year.

In now 26 sexy editions, Broadway Bares has raised over $15.8 million for BC/EFA. The 27th Annual Broadway Bares (theme to be announced) will take place on June 19, 2017.

How can people get involved with BC/EFA?

Check out the website! It overflows with important information, data and entertainment. You can read, see a slew of photos and watch the video highlights of our events. Broadway Bares is just the beginning.

Discover the depth and scope of our support, particularly our National Grants Program where you can look up the organizations funded by state and town from coast to coast.

Buy some merchandise! Have you seen the new Patti LuPone Broadway Legends holiday ornament or last year's Barbra Streisand? No Christmas tree -- gay or straight -- is complete without them. Become a major donor, buy an event ticket or just make a donation. Every connection and action counts, large and small, heralded and quietly made. And follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

This interview has been lightly interviewed for clarity.

JD Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.