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BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need

It all started with the #UncleSeff's Quarantine Broadway Class Series.

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need
Artwork by Justin Teodoro/@justinteodoro

When the pandemic arrived in the spring and Broadway entered what would become its longest shutdown in history, industry veteran Seth Fradkoff was one of many who immediately joined the effort to help. The publicist and self-described 'ultimate theatre geek' decided to put his talents to use by creating a series of virtual quarantine classes for kids, in which students would learn all about Broadway musicals by watching clips, listening to songs and joining in discussion.

In the period from April - August Seth raised over $15,000 for The Actors Fund and over $2,000 for The Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

Since then, Seth's incredible efforts have continued, with ongoing classes for Broadway-loving kids, plus direct fundraising from his GoFundMe page, all of which is organized out of love for the struggling theatre community.

Below, BroadwayWorld checks in with Fradkoff to find out more about the classes and what you can do to help!

How/when did you decide that you wanted to step up and do something special in these unprecedented times?

I had seen Girl From the North Country on Wednesday evening, March 11th thinking it may be my last theatre-going experience for a few weeks. The next day my office was closed and we went to a work from home model for COVID precaution and the health and safety of ourselves and those around us. It was that night Tom Hanks announced he and Rita Wilson had tested positive and, well, from that point on we have all been on the same road...

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of NeedThe next week, as it became clear the country was deeply headed into a shutdown due to the global pandemic, I spoke to a couple friends who were looking for things to do with their children amidst the new virtual learning school mandates. I gladly suggested an introduction to Broadway Zoom class...and quickly started putting together lesson plans.

As I was working on the lesson, I quickly thought about the thousands on and offstage in theatre, as well as those in front of and behind the camera in the film and TV business, and how I could perhaps help them while bringing theatre and culture to children virtually. I immediately thought of The Actors Fund, an organization I have worked with and supported over the last 20 years, which had already begun fundraising with various endeavors and had folks putting together efforts like Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley's fabulous "Stars in the House" series (still going strong) and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

The fund is an organization that perfectly marries my livelihood, and the love and passion I have had for theatre since playing Peter Pan in 4th grade.

And, thus, #UncleSeff's Quarantine Broadway Class Series was born. I posted it to Instagram, and sure enough, people started suggesting it to others and passing it along to friends of friends. As a result, to this day I have had the privilege of teaching over 200 children from all over the country (and a few in the UK) 5 different classes about musical theatre and celebrating Broadway.

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of NeedWhat has been the most rewarding part about working with kids?

The entire process has meant more to me than I ever could have imagined. Raising over $16,000 for The Actors Fund as of the end of October is wonderful. Putting together lessons for five themed classes has given me a glimpse at what the educators of our nation do and it is nothing short of amazing. They should be honored each and every day. Seeing children so energized, curious, and interested in musical theatre through these classes has given me goosebumps, the kind I get while sitting in a show.

Not having theatre to go to, but being able to sit on Zooms with kids watching the likes of Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon do "Nowadays," Mary Martin fly as Peter Pan, the casts of Hair, A Chorus Line, Rent and Hamilton use the Broadway stage to celebrate life and inclusion in different generations, many of Broadway's leading ladies from Pearl Bailey to Bernadette Peters, Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley to Audra McDonald and so many more has filled a void not only for me but so many, including parents who have excitedly joined their children in class.

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need

Most importantly, though, I have savored being able to connect Broadway musicals with where we are in America today. I am not a teacher by trade, I do not have any training, but I do know that we are nothing without stories. And we are at a critical time especially for the younger generations, so, I decided to lean into it.

I end the Introduction to Broadway class with the final Broadway company of Rent singing "Seasons of Love" and every child connects that to the essential workers who put everything at risk and have worked tirelessly during the pandemic. In the Broadway for Real class, we watch Barbra Streisand sing "People" from Funny Girl to remind us all that without each other, we are nothing. In The Wonderful Women of the Great White Way, a snippet of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand's iconic "Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again" gives way to the now legendary performance from Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald on the Rosie O'Donnell Show following the tragedy of 9/11. From Screen to Stage, celebrating movies as musicals on Broadway ends with a powerful clip of 7-year old Wynta-Amor Rogers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Merrick, NY and then we see Queen Latifah as Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray delivering that musicals civil rights anthem "I Know Where I've Been."

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of NeedBWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need

After the first four classes had run multiple times, I realized, following the senseless and racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I needed to add a final class so children could learn about Black stories on Broadway. While children will not fully understand the reach of the deep-rooted systemic racism in theatre, I have called out how certain stories would need to be told by different teams now, how people of color and other marginalized communities need to be part of the process from the start, and not just onstage, and also highlighted the incredible black artists who have graced the Broadway stages. For this special class, I pivoted all donations to the Broadway Advocacy Coalition and began each lesson with the launch video from Black Theatre United.

I understand that plenty of 'guest stars' have sent messages of encouragement. What was the reaction like from the kids?

At first, I wasn't going to reach out to people as the kids were loving the classes and everyone has been inundated with requests, sharing their time for causes and benefits at this crazy time.

But when the endeavor took off and I was raising more money than I ever thought I would, I decided to reach out to a few of Broadway's favorites and got a handful to introduce their performances and also thank all the families for donating to The Actor's Fund.

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of Need

So, special thanks to Betty Buckley, Kristin Chenoweth, NY1's Frank DiLella, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Donna Murphy, Elaine Paige and Daphne Rubin Vega for your special guest starring roles. The kids loved being introduced to some theatre royalty for the first time, and seeing some they already knew (Goldsberry from Hamilton and Groff was a huge hit introducing Little Shop of Horrors since most of the kids were huge fans of Frozen and Frozen 2!)

BWW Interview: How Seth Fradkoff is Raising Money for Artists in a Time of NeedI have to say, as a theatre kid of the 90's, and someone who became obsessed with career of Elaine Paige on vinyl and VHS, to get a message from her in my inbox introducing "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and Sunset Boulevard to the kids was a pinch me moment. Thanks Elaine...from across the pond.

Are the classes still happening now? How can people schedule classes/become involved today?

I have been scheduling classes if people reach out. Usually, it makes the most sense to get a group of 8-10 kids together so we can raise an appropriate amount per class for The Actor's Fund. I can do any of the classes as a one off, or we can do a series. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I had my first Happy Hour class with some folks in Los Angeles who missed Broadway and wanted to take a journey through the Screen to Stage class - they loved it and raised $600 for The Actor's Fund. So, I will happily do classes to keep the fundraising going. Also, if there are educators who may be interested as schools and after-school programs are looking for new activities and lessons, that is great too. I welcome anyone who wants to raise money for The Actors Fund to email or reach out on Instagram @sethyny

Many artists/theatres. are struggling to make end's meet until theatre returns. Why do you think that it's so important for people to support the arts on the local/global level right now?

For many reasons.

Right now, it is about raising funds and helping those whose situations may be more dire than your own. I think so many people who love going to the theatre and support the arts as audiences don't think how people are working show to show, gig to gig. And especially those offstage from the box office attendant to the usher, the second chair viola to the dresser, the follow spot operator and stage manager. They need us to support them now as we would if we were going to their show.

Secondly, we MUST keep the love of theatre and the arts alive. That is very hard while we are all experiencing this intermission from live theatre. But, also one of the reasons I wanted to do these classes. It is so important to celebrate theatre - from the past, present and the future - and that is part of what these classes have done for children.

And, most importantly, we learn from stories. Onstage and screen, on television and on pages...and theatre is the earliest form of communal storytelling. Although we can't all be in the same space right now, we can certainly all share theatre together virtually. And that, to me, is a beautiful and powerful thing. Especially for younger generations.

For additional information about classes and fundraising email or reach out on Instagram @sethyny

You can also donate directly from Seth's GoFundMe page.

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