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By Donald V. Calamia
For the past several years, theatergoers throughout the state have been asked to donate to an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS - but I suspect many in the audience haven't a clue what the organization does and what happens to the money they gladly hand over to an appreciative volunteer. Nor do they know that periodic fundraisers are held locally featuring the cast and crew from national touring shows in town at Detroit's Fisher Theatre. Michigan-native Brad Harder produces many of these shows, and he talked recently with EncoreMichigan.com about Broadway Cares and the upcoming event March 28 featuring the cast of Les Miserables.
This is getting to be a habit! Once a year for the past several years now you and I have chatted about an annual event that helps raise money locally for a very worthy cause: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For those who aren't familiar with the organization, what IS Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS?
(laughs) Well, I guess if we have to have a habit, this is a great one to have, because the end result is helping so many people!
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the nation's leading industry-based nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. It was created to support efforts by the entertainment industry to promote awareness, education and understanding of HIV/AIDS and other critical health issues, to support organizations that provide treatment or services for people affected by HIV/AIDS, and support efforts by the entertainment industry in other charitable or educational endeavors.
Although the organization originally started out as two separate non-profits in the mid-to-late-1980s, they merged in 1992 – and both separately and together, they've awarded more than $114 million to AIDS-related social service programs and service organizations. That's quite impressive! How does the group raise money?
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS raises money through the talents, resources and generosity of the theater community. This includes shows on and off Broadway, tours and in professional and community theaters in cities throughout the United States by doing special events, fundraisers and audience appeals at the end of their performances. Corporate and private donors also play a large role in raising funds.
Broadway Cares has awarded over 400 annual grants to AIDS and family service organizations nationwide. Broadway Cares stays very busy producing events in New York. Their last event, ABS Daytime Salutes Broadway Cares, was this past weekend and they are gearing up for their next event, Dance From The Heart, next week!
One of the major fundraising efforts is the annual Broadway Bares show, which last year raised over $1 million. I interviewed its creator, Jerry Mitchell, back in 2009, and he said it was one of the greatest things to ever happen to him. What's the concept of the show?
Broadway Bares is an annual event in New York City that features over 200 of Broadway's hottest male and female dancers. When Jerry Mitchell created Broadway Bares in 1992, the concept was to celebrate sensuality and community. The message of the show to "be safe" is the same today.
I have actually worked at Broadway Bares as one of the over 40 stage managers for the past three years. I'm already planning my next trip back to work my fourth Bares on June 19. (There were actually 1,012 total volunteers at last year's show!)
This year, Bares will be going into its 21st year.
Is there a chance we could do something like that locally sometime? (laughs)
(laughs) I think that you and I could pull off a mini Detroit Bares! Guess I better hit the gym a little harder and lay off of those Pronto! cookies. (laughs)
There are also a couple of local efforts to raise funds each year for Broadway Cares, aren't there?
Most national tours, including Broadway and off-Broadway shows, collect donations after their shows during the six weeks leading up to the Gypsy Of The Year Competition (which takes place during Thanksgiving) and the Easter Bonnet Competition (during Easter), which are events in New York. Actors from the shows will usually stay in costume and hold buckets at the theater exits so audience members can contribute when they leave the show. The competition is to see which national tour, Broadway and off-Broadway show can raise the most money through their audience appeals.
The 2010 Gypsy of the Year Competition raised $2,776,720 and more than $44 million over the past 22 years, and the 2010 Easter Bonnet Competition raised $3,265,700 and more than $42 million over the past 24 years.
Here are the results from the 2010 Thanksgiving appeals:
That's pretty good. Then there are the locally-produced events, too.
Yes. I have produced two events in Detroit in 2005 (with the casts of Phantom of the Opera and Hairspray), one in Royal Oak in 2006 (with the cast of Little Women starring Maureen McGovern), and two in Ferndale in 2011 (with the casts of In The Heights and Les Miserables).
We have a local group, Equity & Friends Fight AIDS, that collects money and donates it to local AIDS-related charities and service organizations as well. In fact, there was an industry-only event this past Christmas that was so popular and well received that it will become an annual event. But to be clear, that's not your group.
Right. I am not involved with that organization.
Do the monies raised in Michigan STAY in Michigan? I ask, because the name "Broadway Cares" might lead people to think the organization serves only the theater community in New York, but that's not the case, is it?
The money raised for this event (the cover charge and auction) will be split between two organizations.
The first is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. While money will be sent to Broadway Cares in New York, there are organizations in Michigan that actually receive thousands of dollars in grants every year from Broadway Cares.
The second organization is the John F Kennedy Elementary PTA, located in Ferndale. Because this show is a benefit, we chose to work with a local venue that is connected to the community. The Loving Touch in Ferndale is a perfect fit, not only for the show, but in keeping in line with Broadway Cares's mission. The owners of The Loving Touch do a lot of fundraising for Ferndale Public Schools at all three of their businesses (including Woodward Avenue Brewers and The Emory) so the partnership made sense. They have been amazing to work with!
What organizations in Michigan have received funds from Broadway Cares in recent years?
Recent grants have been made to the following Michigan AIDS organizations: AIDS Partnership Michigan, Community Health Awareness Group, Lansing Area AIDS Network, Rainbow Alliance and the HIV/AIDS Resource Center.
Broadway Cares does their grant-making twice a year.
You've been producing the Detroit benefit for a number of years now. How did you get involved with the effort? And more importantly, why?
I have been managing Broadway tours for the past 10 years. Because of the nature of the business, I often have "down time" between projects. It has given me the opportunity to come back to my hometown and work with other tours while they are performing in Detroit.
I have been a long-time supporter of Broadway Cares since I learned about the organization while in high school. It's important for me to give back to the community by tapping into the theater community and doing what we love – providing entertainment!
As you mentioned, each year's fundraiser ties into one of the national touring shows that's booked into the Fisher Theatre. How much time in advance do you begin planning the fundraiser? And how easy is it to coordinate all the details with the Fisher, the tour managers and the folks who will be involved in the event?
The benefit events have been tied to shows that perform at the Fisher because their shows are usually in town for two or more weeks. Tours have a six-day work week, so their day off is always on a Monday (unless they are traveling to the next city). For some tours, this could be their only day off in weeks, but they still choose to be part of these events!
While it's nice to have a month or so to pull these events together, I have planned them in as little as a couple of weeks. I am lucky to be working with cast member Ben Gunderson from the Les Miserables tour. He is working with his cast members in setting up the program for the show.
This year's fundraiser is scheduled for Monday, March 28 and features, as you mentioned, the cast of Les Miserables that's coming to the Fisher Theatre March 22 through April 3. What does the evening entail?
Rock The Barricade includes a cabaret-style performance by the touring cast of Les Miserables performing their favorite songs from rock to pop and even a few show tunes.
There is also a special appearance by Ferndale's own The Barrettes, along with a few other surprises throughout the evening.
The silent auction features items generously donated by the Broadway community just for our show and gift packages from local leading businesses.
You also have a special guest to close out the evening, singer/songwriter Steven Mullan. For those unfamiliar with his work, what type of music does he perform? And how did he become involved in the project?
Steven Mullan is a 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Toledo, Ohio. Steven will be playing his originals along with a wide range of covers. Artists such as the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, James Morrison and Marc Broussard inspire his music.
I first met Steven a couple of years ago while he was performing at the Raven Coffee Shop in Port Huron, which I lived near at the time. At the end of Steven's performance, we started chatting about the music business, and I found out that he was also involved in theater, having performed in several of the musicals at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He double majored in voice performance and music composition/theory. We became friends, and he has been helping out with the past two benefits. Check out his Web site at www.stevenmullan.com!
How much are tickets? And are tickets available in advance?
Admission is a $15 cover charge at the door. Tickets are not available in advance.
The venue is intimate, and this show will sell out, so you will want to get there early to grab a drink from the bar and get a seat close to the stage.
I understand the event is for ages 18 and above. But are there any other juicy tidbits about the fundraiser you can tease us about now?
Simply said, this event will be a fun and affordable way to support the work of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and your local schools. You will be able to enjoy an intimate evening with the amazingly talented cast of the Les Miserables National Tour and even mingle with them after the show.
You could also leave with a signed Broadway poster or a gift package from one of our great local businesses!
What a great way to spend a Monday evening and start off your week!
ABOUT BRAD HARDER:
Brad Harder is proud to represent Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in Detroit's fifth remarkable "show of support" for those living with HIV/AIDS. Past company management credits include Broadway Bares 18, 19 and 20; Broadway and off-Broadway productions; national tours of Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, various productions in Seattle, Ogunquit and Boston; production manager at the Fox Theater and the Detroit productions of White Christmas and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. In addition to working on shows, he recently relocated to the area, became an emergency medical technician, and is continuing his education in emergency medicine.
Rock The Barricade: 'Les Miserables' Benefit Concert, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Ferndale's John F. Kennedy School, will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, March 28 at The Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Avenue, Ferndale. Tickets, available at the door only, are $15.
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