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Patti LuPone and Jerry Mitchell on the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

When Broadway theaters closed in March 2020, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Actors Fund immediately leapt into action to support the members of the Broadway community.

Jerry Mitchell and Billy Porter at the Broadway Bares fundraisers for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids (Photo: Jonathan Tichler)

When Broadway theaters closed in March 2020, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Actors Fund immediately leapt into action to support the members of the Broadway community.

On Tuesday, March 17, days after the start of the shutdown, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which is the single largest financial supporter of the Actors Fund, launched the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. The next day, Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: At Home Edition,” via Zoom, to promote the initiative. And in the days that followed, a group of more than 20 Broadway producers offered a challenge match, launching a trend of giving from fellow producers and the public which would continue throughout the year.

At the same time, the Actors Fund immediately began processing applications and providing help for thousands of members of the entertainment community in need. Utilizing funds, including those raised by Broadway Cares, the Actors Fund provides emergency financial assistance, health insurance, counseling and operates the Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. Their efforts have been amplified by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley’s “Stars in The House,” Rosie O’Donnell and a number of online fundraising events throughout the year.

Due to their steadfast service in crisis, the Broadway Briefing, the theater industry newsletter owned by the publisher of Broadway News, has jointly named Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Actors Fund the 2020 Broadway Showperson of the Year.  Broadway Showperson of the Year is awarded to “the person or persons who most influenced Broadway this year.”

In the Briefing, actress Patti LuPone and director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell wrote about how each organization has supported the Broadway community through the pandemic:

Patti LuPone on the Actors Fund

Even in a good year, this is a tough business, and this has been one hell of a year. Our industry has been utterly decimated by this pandemic. Our entire community has been out of work since March, with little prospect for any kind of meaningful employment until deep into 2021. For months and months, we had been completely abandoned by our elected officials, who failed to include us in any of the stimulus measures they managed to pass before descending predictably into gridlock. Despite our giant — and I mean giant — economic and cultural contributions, we are consistently treated like third-class citizens in this country. Some support for live entertainment has finally made its way into this newest relief bill, which is welcome news — but I fear it’s not going to be nearly enough to end the suffering of so many unemployed workers.

Enter the Actors Fund.

Since March, the Actors Fund has provided $18 million in relief to nearly 15,000 of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Proudly serving all professionals in film, theater, television, music, opera, radio and dance, the Fund has worked tirelessly to make sure that, despite these catastrophic circumstances, none of us need to go without food, shelter, or, thanks to their recently-launched Every Artist Insured Campaign, healthcare. They have had our back when our elected officials have turned theirs. They have provided hope when all hope seemed lost. They have been a vital lifeline to thousands upon thousands of entertainment industry professionals who have nowhere else to turn. And for that, they have earned our universal adoration and respect. In return for their commitment to us, so many of us have found creative ways to return the favor by raising funds on their behalf over the course of this past year, from virtual performances to telethon-style webcasts. It has given us purpose during this period of stagnation.

I believe what we do in the performing arts is essential; I consider every single one of us an essential worker. We cannot sit back and accept our third-class status. We must stand up and be counted. Until then though, we can rest a little easier knowing that our friends at The Actors Fund will always be there to pick us up when we stumble. The Fund has been steadfast through the best of times and, now, through the worst. I speak on behalf of the entire community when I say that I am grateful beyond measure for their work, and I wish them congratulations on being named Broadway Briefing’s 2020 Broadway Showperson of the Year!

Jerry Mitchell on Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

What my hometown of Paw Paw, Michigan lacks in population size, it more than makes up for with a deep-seated sense of community. So, when I first arrived in New York City in 1980, the only thing I needed more than a job and a rent-controlled apartment was a group of people with whom I could join forces. Almost immediately, though, the collection of friends and fellow artists that I had managed to cobble together found itself being ravaged by the AIDS crisis. We were losing people left and right, and none of us knew what to do.

When all hope seemed lost, Broadway Cares (as it was called before merging with Equity Fights AIDS) gave me a mission and a sense of purpose. We quickly learned that the best way we could protect ourselves was by teaming up and protecting each other. This ethos – the idea that we are stronger when we work together – is summed up by the organization’s motto: “What we do together makes a difference.”

When I created and organized the first Broadway Bares in 1992 – and handed over a pillowcase filled with about $8,000 in sweaty bills to the organization – the event satisfied a deep need I had to strengthen my own existence through service. 28 years later, neither that need nor that satisfaction have diminished.

Ours is a community forged like steel in the inferno of a public health emergency, so when COVID-19 hit our shores and began its deadly assault on our city and our art form, we were armed and ready. While much of the world found itself in quicksand, we were standing on the rock-solid foundation built from experience and know-how, grit and determination.

Broadway Cares’ annual fundraising needs rely heavily on live, in-person events, so this year the organization quickly pivoted to make up for the anticipated shortfall. Just days after Broadway shut down, Broadway Cares launched the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund to raise millions of dollars for various relief efforts. As the single largest financial supporter of this year’s co-honoree, the Actors Fund, Broadway Cares awarded the Fund a record $11.2 million during the fiscal year 2020 and has already provided an additional $5 million for the fiscal year 2021. Those donations are helping to cover emergency financial assistance, health care, insurance, counseling and more for everyone in the entertainment and performing arts community.

When it came time to start thinking about if and how we might pull off Broadway Bares in this era of social distancing, more than 400 performers showed up to our planning meeting, held over Zoom. I saw in their eyes the same need I had all those years ago: to be part of something bigger than ourselves. There was no choice: we had to put on this show, and so we did – safely and virtually. Even in forced isolation, Broadway Cares is still managing to provide us with that cherished sense of community.

Too often people think about Broadway Cares as a safety net, but that phrase tells only half the story. Yes, it provides an incredible amount of crucial resources to people in desperate need each year, but just as important, it serves as an emotional support system for every single member of our greater theatrical community, from performers to restaurant workers, and everyone in between.

In a business full of unpredictability and insecurity, Broadway Cares has been an unwavering and reliable force for good over the past four decades. Under the leadership of its ring master, the incomparable Tom Viola, whose passion for our community knows no limits, the organization has proven itself to be a constant multiplier of positivity; no matter how much we give, it gives back so much more. I can think of no worthier recipient of the distinction “2020 Broadway Showperson of the Year” than Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.