On Sunday, Sept. 30, while many other students were in West Chester preparing for auditions for the 19th Annual AIDS Benefit Concert, the Producing and Publicity Teams had other plans. What could possibly be more important than attending and helping out at auditions? I’m glad you asked! But first, you might be wondering: what is the AIDS Benefit?
The AIDS Benefit is an annual cabaret-style concert that is directed, produced and performed by students of West Chester University Theatre. It is a completely student-run event (with some help from faculty advisor John Bellomo) that raises money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA). Students from various majors and minors from all across campus come together to put on this annual concert in December, which features anything from musical theatre songs, short scenes, choreographed numbers, a capella, improv and more. Over the past 19 years, we have raised over $80,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS with $24,000 raised over the last two years alone.
At 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, Josh Waltz, Sam Stewart, Caitlin Iannella, Julianna Yasson, Zach Galloza and myself met up for coffee at Saxbys, piled into two cars and then hit the road. Our destination? Broadway.
A few weeks ago, our producer of the 19th Annual AIDS Benefit, Josh Waltz, surprised all of us with some incredibly exciting news: we had been invited by the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Director of Education, Michael DiBianco, to work at this year’s Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction!
For those of you who don’t know, the Broadway Flea Market is basically like “Theatre Christmas” for Broadway fans. Theatre lovers from all over the country travel to New York City and have the chance to buy show merchandise and meet Broadway stars from their favorite shows. The theatre community completely takes over the Theatre District for the day to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Each show sets up a table with merchandise and memorabilia, and there’s a selfie stage where you can take photos with Broadway stars and professionals, as well as an autograph table with different stars each hour.
This year, the 32nd Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction raised $906,825 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—our little group of six was front and center, right in the middle of the magic.
We arrived in New York City around 10:30 a.m. and made our way to Shubert Alley. Upon arrival, we immediately found Alumni Producer of the West Chester University AIDS Benefit, Megan Fitzwater, who was also volunteering at the Flea Market! After another stop for coffee, we were ready to start our shift.
We worked at the “Selfie Stage” from 12 p.m. until about 3 p.m. Some of us helped with crowd control, some took peoples’ pictures with the stars while others were working at other tables. We split up and spread out, and each did our best to raise money and volunteer for this incredible cause.
Even though we were volunteering, we were given the chance to take pictures with the stars! Julianna and I were able to take a photo with members from the cast of “Frozen.” And before we left for the day, our whole group was able to get a photo with Lesli Margherita (“Matilda,” “Dames at Sea”) and Wesley Taylor (“Rock of Ages,” “The Addams Family,” “SpongeBob SquarePants”). Did I mention we saw Chita Rivera? Because we did—and it was awesome.
Throughout the day, we all ended up running into people we knew or friends we haven’t seen in a while. I ran into two old friends who I was pleasantly surprised to see. Sam and Caitlin both ran into friends from home. Gabi Haines was in the city for the weekend with her family and stopped by to help out as well. Josh’s family came to the city to surprise him! Seeing an alum like Megan thriving in the city was definitely a highlight of the day.
We finished our day at Junior’s for dinner. They have the BEST cheesecake; I highly recommend it. Of course, we had to do a bit of shopping with Megan before catching the train back home. It was a truly beautiful day.
Working at the Broadway Flea Market was an eye-opening experience. We are so incredibly grateful to Michael for such an amazing opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to witness the theatre community from all across the country come together to raise money for such a wonderful cause. Each and every person who was there donated their time and money to Broadway Cares, and in turn donated to those who truly need it. Sure, it was awesome to see and meet so many incredible Broadway stars and professionals, but it was even more amazing to meet the people who volunteer their time daily to Broadway Cares.
Being at the Flea Market was also an incredible reminder of why we at West Chester University produce our AIDS Benefit Concert every year. The AIDS Benefit is different from any other typical University Theatre Main Stage production we do. When those are over, the set is struck and we just move on to the next show. With the AIDS Benefit, at the end of everything, we get to walk away knowing that we have done something incredible. We walk away knowing that we donated our time and talents to a cause that really helps people. And that’s what it’s all about.
So, thank you, Michael and everyone else at Broadway Cares for inviting us to the 32nd Annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction. We had an amazing day and we can’t wait to be back.
Marissa Brewer is a fourth-year student majoring in theater. MB865425@wcupa.edu