BroadwayGirlNYC: The Normal Heart and BC/EFA
This week I was transported back in time. I entered the Golden Theatre in 2011 with a ticket in my hand to see the revival of The Normal Heart on Broadway. But when the lights went down, it was 1982 and there I was – witnessing the first legions, the first diagnoses, and the start of the fight to eradicate the disease we now recognize as AIDS.
I was born right around the time that AIDS first came into the world. I’m of the first generation to never know a world without it. And while that hasn’t changed my understanding of its impact, or its horror… there was something missing about my comprehension of this plague that I’d never have been able to absorb had it not been displayed in front of me in brilliant dramatic form.
To say I was moved by this play is an understatement. I felt rocked and changed after I saw it. I had trouble even leaving my seat after the play; I stood in my row and just ached. I finally got myself together and made it home, and that night, I lay awake a long time, thinking about AIDS. If there was one lesson I took away from the production, it’s that for all the strides our activists have made over the last 30 years, we haven’t done nearly enough.
The next morning the show was still with me, of course (I feel like it always will be, in the form of the education that it provided). That made my next event all the more poignant: the annual BC/EFA Easter Bonnet Celebration, which celebrates six weeks of intense fundraising by the New York theatrical community, all of which goes to Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS.
If you’ve ever been to a show where the cast stays on-stage after the curtain call, and pleads for donations or sells special merchandise to raise money, you’ve witnessed BC/EFA fundraising at work. Twice a year – leading up to Easter Bonnet and its sister show, Gypsy of the Year – casts band together to collect funds, and shows compete to see who can come up with the most money to benefit the organization. I’ve written before about these and BC/EFA’s other signature events; I’ve been attending them for years. But never before did I have the context in which to put the effort. The juxtaposition of seeing The Normal Heart and attending the Easter Bonnet was jarring, moving, impressive, ovation-worthy, and unsettling all at the same time.
Easter Bonnet raised over $3,700,000 this year. In the 24 years since the event began, it has been responsible for over $46,000,000 in donations to BC/EFA. This is a massive figure by all counts, and each time I attend a fundraiser I applaud the ability of our community to come together, dig deep in our pockets, and share with those in need.
What I didn’t comprehend before seeing The Normal Heart is that there’s another face to this huge amount of money – and that is why we need to raise it in the first place. Each year, the Easter Bonnet, Gypsy of the Year, the Broadway Cares Flea Market, etc raise millions that go directly toward fighting AIDS. While worth celebrating, it’s also simply terrifying to realize that despite our long-term commitment to eradicating the disease, it is still out there. You’d think anything could be annihilated by throwing enough money at it. But not AIDS. Thirty years and millions of deaths later, and a cure is still evading us. Which means one thing: we haven’t done enough yet.
As I was leaving The Normal Heart the other night, I saw small crowd gathering, surrounding a figure I couldn’t make out through the growing group. I heard exclamations of emotion, compliments, congratulations, and a murmur of mutual appreciation for the show we had all just seen. I peered around the bodies and caught sight of a slight man wearing a black baseball cap emblazoned with the logo for The Normal Heart. It was Larry Kramer, the playwright himself. He was passing out copies of a letter he had written in honor of the revival of his masterpiece. Humbly, I took one from the man himself.
I began to read:
Thank you for coming to see our play….
Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague. Please know that no country in the world, including this one, especially this one, has ever called it a plague, or dealt with it as a plague. Please know that there is no one in charge of this plague. This is a war for which there is no general and for which there has never been a general. How can you win a war with no one in charge?
…The world has suffered at the very least some 75 million infections and 35 million deaths, the letter says. When the action of the play that you have just seen begins, there were 41.
Yes, we must congratulate ourselves on the fundraising we have done. Yes, we must celebrate with shows and fancy hats and robes and glitter and songs and dancing! But most importantly we must not stop. We must follow in the footsteps of activists like Larry Kramer and the characters he introduces in The Normal Heart (all of whom, he assures in his letter, "were and are real people who lived and spoke and died”).
We must continue to band together and fight this plague that affects our community. Even one more death is one too many.
To donate money, visit https://www.broadwaycares.org/online_donation
To donate time, visit http://www.broadwaycares.org/volunteer
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation's leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised over $175 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.